At the marrow of Eugene O’Neill’s masterpiece Long Day’s Journey Into Night is its compassionate sorrow that the ultimate human tragedy is the death of hope.
The final tableau of four devastated souls irrevocably adrift in the fog-bound damnation of inescapable failures and unconquerable frailties is an endgame so harrowing that the audience can hardly breathe.
It would be insufficient to praise Palm Beach Dramaworks’ incisive courageous production for its “performances” because director William Hayes and his superb cast go beyond naturalism and beyond stylistic theatricality into a world only found in theater where wounded souls can be both prosaic and lyrical.
This gauntlet of a production – with as accurate a title as ever invented – starts so slowly and proceeds early on with so little dramatic electricity that even knowledgeable fans of the work may fret whether it will ever get down to business. But Hayes and O’Neill want the play to start in an everyday place as recognizable as last night’s family dinner and end 3 1/4 hours later in the irreversible depths of hell.
It’s not the Tyrone family members’ specific predicaments that are shattering. It’s O’Neill’s profound empathy inherent in the cold clear observation that the results of past damage — unintentionally wrought by all-too-human fallibilities and sins — cannot be escaped or undone.