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March 24, 2016 at 7:59 pm #601203
Earlier in the week it dawned on me that we’re less than a month away from witnessing Jessica Lange’s potentially triumphant return to Broadway. I quickly recalled the raves and Olivier Award nomination she received for her first outing as Mary Tyrone on the West End over 15 years ago.
I have a feeling that she will win the Tony this year.
When trying to gauge whether or not Lange could win her first Tony, please refer to this – only one of a myriad reviews echoing the same sentiments – from Variety regarding her performance :
The secret is out: Hollywood for much of the past two decades has been hiding a great theater actress in Jessica Lange, and it has taken London’s West End to allow her stage gifts to fully shine.
Nearly four years ago, Lange returned, under Peter Hall’s direction, to her 1992 Broadway role as Blanche DuBois — without in any way recycling the earlier performance. That achievement can now be seen as mere preparation for her current and fearsome endeavor, Eugene O’Neill’s Mary Tyrone.
Do Blanche and Mary collectively make Lange the high priestess of pain? Apparently so, and why not: Whether collapsing in loneliness amid the fogbound house Mary will never call home, or transforming herself into the “mad ghost” referred to by husband James (Charles Dance), Lange laces into a marathon assignment with abandon, courage and genuine stage smarts. Indeed, the only real problem posed by her performance is what she could possibly do for an encore. Having inherited two of Jessica Tandy’s defining roles so far, why not make it a hat trick and have a go at Amanda Wingfield? She’s got the gift.
For now, let’s just be thankful that Lange’s affection for the stage is strong, and for a production from Robin Phillips (directing the play for the third time) that — for all its inconsistencies — knows how to show off its star. That’s not to suggest that this “Long Day’s Journey” is an exercise in vanity, however much this Mary’s doings suggest a seasoned narcissist; if anything, it’s the opposite.
Whereas the West End’s new “Caretaker” seemed content to let Michael Gambon get away with near-murder, the less experienced Lange gives an infinitely more disciplined performance. There hasn’t been a truer, less show-offy local display of distaff bravura since Judi Dench in “Amy’s View.”
Traditionally with this play, one talks first about its Tyrone, the miserly and ill-advisedly acquisitive thespian paterfamilias who presides — often drunkenly — over a dissolute older son, Jamie (Paul Rudd), and a consumptive younger one (Paul Nicholls), not to mention a wife wafting in and out of lucidity even as her mind is wrenched every which way in time. (So undervalued was the Mary in the 1986 Broadway revival, with Jack Lemmon, that co-star Bethel Leslie got a Tony nod in the supporting actress category.)
But it isn’t just Lange’s allure as a visiting film name, the latest of many to hit the London theater this year, that finds her dominating proceedings. There’s something decidedly stolid and — at first, anyway — underpowered about Dance’s robust, silver-haired Tyrone, no matter how much he paws his rattled wife in a liaison that, rather startlingly, still has a clear sexual component.
Dance catches the bitter comedy of a line like, “It’s you who are leaving us,” as he derides the doped-up Mary’s desire to keep her brood forever by her side. But his heavy-lidded demeanor flares into life only in the last of the play’s three acts, during which Mary is heard solely as a foot-heavy phantasm prior to her reappearance at the end. Acknowledging Tyrone’s ruin by the very play that made him (the part, of course, is a thinly veiled sketch of O’Neill’s own actor-father and his career treading the boards in “The Count of Monte Cristo”), Dance eventually reaches the depths of the self-acknowledged hack. “It’s a late day for regrets,” says Tyrone, but Dance does in the end arrive there while nonetheless leaving one in mind of a male lead less prone to the slow burn.
The two Tyrone sons allowed for an indelible double-act back in 1986 from Peter Gallagher (Edmund) and Kevin Spacey (Jamie) in the Jonathan Miller staging that flopped on Broadway before storming London. The present go-round’s pair of Pauls, Rudd and Nicholls, have yet to scorch the stage.
A bearded Rudd, looking heftier than usual, has a rather persistently contempo presence as the gambling cynic Jamie. Nicholls, a British soap opera actor who has impressed before onstage, could dispense with a feeble cough that mars an otherwise fiercely committed rendering of the playwright’s alter ego, Edmund — the Baudelaire-quoting man of feeling who is “a little in love with death.” Like Dance, both boys come into their own in the shared third-act face-off that remains a lastingly honest and brutal assessment of sibling unrest. “I love you more than I hate you,” confesses Jamie, here seen alternately cradling and strangling Edmund. And Rudd pierces the psychic chaos behind Jamie’s avuncular “hi, kid” hail-fellow-well-met rhetoric.
If “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” can be encapsulated at all — Richard Eyre has described it as “the saddest play ever written” — it’s as the seminal commingling of hatred and love. Rudd and Nicholls exactly capture that familial flashpoint, with Jamie on this occasion doing a neat post-confessional jig while awaiting absolution from his hyperventilating aesthete-brother.
Maybe all three men are at their best late on because they no longer have to compete with Lange, who, among other accomplishments, gives the lie to the conception that Hollywood stars soft-pedal their stage personae.
At first, you notice the hands, quietly and unfussily in constant motion and composed of fingers that, says Mary, surveying her body as if it were the enemy, are “ugly … maimed and crippled.” How does this square with the great beauty that was Mary whom James boasts of (and Lange still is)? It’s in tune with her morphine-fueled perceptions that Mary’s sense of her flesh should be as fraught as her aggrieved mind.
As Lange communicates the role, Mary is living a double lie — concerned for her family, Edmund especially, yet a solipsist in matters of the self; anxious for the future and yet forever seduced back into the past. “I’m not (bitter),” she proclaims late in act two, her protestation fair game for someone both victimizer as well as victim.
Much talked-about in that final act, Mary finally retakes her position amid Simon Higlett’s beautiful dreamscape of a set, the blue-gray walls as liquefied and evanescent (there’s a pictureless frame) as its heroine’s shattered psyche. “The mad scene, enter Ophelia,” cracks Jamie, while an increasingly sickly Edmund crawls across the floor in front of his mother.
But Mary has forsaken the here and now as if succumbing to the encroaching New England fog, her shriek at Edmund’s report of his consumption quickly snuffed out. “I was so happy … for a time,” she says dreamily in one of dramatic literature’s most celebrated final lines. And so “Long Day’s” at last closes, as it must, cathartically, borne aloft by a performance one will remember for all time.
*I wanted this thread to be a poll, but I can’t seem to find how to do that (even though it’s probably right in front of my nose, lol).March 24, 2016 at 8:18 pm #601210
Jessica Lange at first seems surprising casting as Mary Tyrone in Eugene O’Neill’s great family drama. Lange has a feisty, resilient quality whereas one thinks of Mary as a pathetic victim of morphine and her husband’s miserliness. But one of the surprises in Robin Phillips’s excellent revisionist production is to show Mary to be as much emotional vampire as helpless addict.
Lange, in a magnificently unsentimental performance, reminds us that Mary is a woman who constantly twists the knife in the family’s wounds. You can argue that her addiction is to blame; and Lange captures astonishingly Mary’s transition during the day from nervous, hankie-twisting tension to dreamy narcotic escape. But, without judging the character, Lange shows it is her endless picking at the familial scabs that is the real source of agony.March 24, 2016 at 8:21 pm #601213
I’ll continue posting old reviews of the 2000 West End production because I think I’ll find it fascinating to be able to compare the two productions – and performances – when the new production opens next month.
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Long Day’s Journey into Night
(21st Nov 00 – 3rd Mar 01)
Written by Eugene O’ Neill
Director: Robin Phillips
Starring: Jessica Lange, Charles Dance, Paul Rudd, Paul Nicholls
Story: Concerns Mary Tyrone, who has become an unreformable drug addict as the result of her husband hiring a quack doctor.
Review by Carol Verburg
5th Dec 00
Another showcase of British understatement. In the U.S., this play typically crackles with terrifying passion. Here, although director Phillips’s restrained production allows Jessica Lange to take center stage as a heartbreakingly vulnerable, desperate Mary Tyrone, it also made me wish O’Neill had stopped writing after Act Two. By then he had said just about everything there was to say about his unhappy family; & the actors’ focus on dialog over action failed to catapult his long, verbose script off the page. A wrestling match in Act Three woke me up again; but too many scenes had the actors simply sitting in chairs around a table, talking. Charles Dance, a wonderfully talented actor, made the most subdued James Tyrone I’ve ever seen — English, not Irish-American. For O’Neill fans, this production is worth seeing. But if you have the choice, see this (or any O’Neill play) in a fringe theater or the U.S. or Ireland instead of the West End.
A round up of the press notices by Darren Dalglish
Most of the popular press liked this production…
THE GUARDIAN says, “You go in expecting an endurance-test; you emerge as if having seen O’Neill’s play for the first time.”
THE DAILY EXPRESS says, that Jessica Lange is “fabulous” and Charles Dance is on “terrific form” and goes on to say “This…is a majestic piece of theatre and does a great play proud.”
THE INDEPENDENT agreed saying, “Jessica Lange…. can take the breath away on a stage as well as on film….Charles Dance, gives a cleverly low-key performance…..Paul Rudd and Paul Nicholls.. are sensational as the two sons.”
THE TIMES describes Jessica Lange, Robin Phillips’s production and O’Neill’s great play as “riveting”.
THE FINANCIAL TIMES describes it as “Superb” and “a great play”.
THE EVENING STANDARD headlined, “This haunting journey is a voyage of discovery”.
TIME OUT says, “Eugene O’Neill’s marathon is lit up by Jessica Lange as the addicted mother.”
THE STAGE describes Jessica Lange as “a stage performer of considerable stature”, and says Paul Nicholls “makes an impressive West End debut”. However, not all critics gave the show a resounding thumbs up,
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH is more luke-warm about the production saying, “This three-and-a-half-hour production takes a good while to draw you in, largely because of some lacklustre turns from Lange’s male co-stars..”
THE SUNDAY TIMES says, “The Lyric’s slushy Long Day’s Journey into Night lacks insight or conviction.”And goes on to say, “This production feels as if it has been born of routine and fatigue.”March 25, 2016 at 6:39 am #601506
It’s hard to comment on Lange’s awards potential sight unseen and just rely on reviews of her performance in the role in a different production from over a decade ago, but I can say she will certainly have stiff competition from Michelle Williams and Lupita Nyong’o.
Formerly known in the forums as PianoMann.March 25, 2016 at 8:49 am #601538
Yeah, I suspect is Nyong’o is probably the front-runner here.
I know Lange won raves in the West End for this production, but she was panned for the “Glass Menagerie” revival she did on Broadway shortly after that and was seen as very ill-as-ease on stage when she did “Streetcar” on Broadway back in the day. Fingers crossed she succeeds here…March 25, 2016 at 9:45 am #601545
Actually, she was nowhere near “panned” for “Menagerie”, though the production was. She received warm to great reviews for her performance. As for her debut on Broadway, it was her first attempt and she’s obviously grown by leaps and bounds as a stage actress. Even still, Lange’s performance as Blanche wasn’t panned either; only her discomfort with projecting her voice. Even detractors noted that it would’ve been a stellar performance had it been on film instead of on stage..
I don’t think the question is whether or not she’ll “succeed here”, but whether or not she’ll win the Tony. 😉March 25, 2016 at 4:00 pm #601618
We’ll know soon enough once this production begins previews shortly. I have tickets, and cannot wait.
As of right now, the Lead Actress in a Play Tony is between Lupita and Michelle, with Williams having a slight edge. But Lange could totally change all that.
PS: Lange will have to be groundbreaking, and receive across-the-board raves to win. The NY theatre scene has never quite embraced Lange the way film and television has. Jessica was actually supposed to do this role in the 2003 revival on Broadway. She backed out, burned a few bridges, and Vanessa Redgrave swooped in to save the day, and won a Tony.
All that, and Michelle Williams is giving the performance of a lifetime in Blackbird.March 26, 2016 at 8:55 am #601705
I love when Lange goes against the odds (Blue Sky, AHS: Coven, etc) and wins. It’s refreshing. 🙂May 18, 2016 at 11:39 am #1201838814
Looks like it’s going to happen after all.
Updated the reviews. THR and The New Yorker are my favorites:
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Led by a transfixing Jessica Lange…one of the more surprising aspects of the latest Broadway revival of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, a play defined by its malignant sorrow, is the nervous laughter that often ripples through the audience…Much of the acrid humor that keeps bubbling up comes from Michael Shannon’s dangerously unpredictable Jamie Tyrone, the unrepentantly cynical eldest son, a failed actor turned dissolute Broadway loafer. But the heat-seeking center of the production is Lange’s morphine-addicted Mary Tyrone, a role she played previously in London 16 years ago. An edge-of-insanity electrical current runs through much of Lange’s work, from her screen portrayals of Frances Farmer or the unhinged wife in Blue Sky through her association with the cracked heroines of Tennessee Williams to her career resurgence as the dotty Big Edie in Grey Gardens and the high priestess of witchy camp in the American Horror Story anthology (series creator Ryan Murphy is an associate producer here). It’s that attraction to madness that gives this performance such mesmerizing authority. The production belongs to Lange, if only for the unsettling spell of her final monologue, when she winds back the years in her head to become a ghost of the convent school girl she once was, still untouched by life. Even when Mary is offstage, thumping around in the attic searching for her wedding gown, she’s a vivid presence in the apprehensive glances that her family cast at the ceiling and staircase. Lange does remarkable things with her voice, chirping away in the early scenes with almost manic concentration to cover her need for a fix, or diving down a full octave to contemplate her arthritic hands with a gravelly chill: “How ugly they are. Who’d ever believe they were once beautiful?” A conflicted creature of wild inconsistencies, Mary craves the invisibility of the fog but at the same time dreads its aloneness. “The hardest thing to take is the blank wall she builds around her,” says Edmund. Lange inhabits those unearthly spaces with fragility but also with the fierce narcissism and cunning of the addict, confessing her crippling weakness only to deny it angrily moments later, or to flip the guilt back onto her family as they look on, heartsick. Her final words are among the most famous closing lines in American drama: “Yes, I remember. I fell in love with James Tyrone and was so happy for a time.” Lange’s Mary has become oblivious to her husband and sons by then, and yet oddly sober, projecting a clarity that cuts like a knife.
Hilton Als, The New Yorker: O’Neill wrested his tale from his own heart, with cunning and fortitude. Lange has all of that, too. I don’t want to call hers a definitive performance, because that would imply that her Mary is a kind of fly in amber—which is the last thing you think as you watch her jump from flirtatiousness to maternal concern, from junkie selfishness to contempt for male self-regard, from deviousness to the sting of loss. I’ve always had a deep admiration for Katharine Hepburn’s interpretation in Sidney Lumet’s extraordinary 1962 film of the play. Hepburn was never better than when using her face like a Kabuki mask to express Mary’s hurt; her downcast eyes and lips spoke volumes on top of O’Neill’s volumes. Obviously, Hepburn was helped by the camera; Lumet could zoom in on the rage and deceit. Because Lange is onstage—in medium shot, as it were—she has to call on different tools. First, there’s her voice. Her mellifluous, murderous sound—the way she raises her voice without raising her eyes, because she doesn’t want anyone to see her dope-dilated pupils—is a lesson in the power of intonation as a form of emotional expressiveness. Then, there’s her body. Lange is entirely free onstage, because she’s sure of her craft, of how to move when moving in for the kill or just trying to show interest in someone other than herself. (Particularly chilling is Lange’s understanding of how dope makes the skin itch; she scratches at her neck subtly to show us what Mary feels.) At the same time, Lange isn’t dying to be seen. She turns to look out the window or keeps her face averted whenever Mary feels trapped or is planning a new lie. Lange forces us to listen more acutely to what Mary is saying, to register how her body language contradicts her brazen imagination. The director, Jonathan Kent, handles Lange’s genius the way it should be handled—by stepping to the side, letting you see that it’s there but not interfering. (His only real flaw is the set, which is pitched at an angle, thus limiting the audience’s view.) Of course, Lange’s performance wouldn’t be possible without her co-stars, who clearly love her without necessarily being up to her level. [However], it’s thrilling to watch Shannon go toe to toe with Lange as Mary deteriorates and grows chemically stronger, and as day lapses into night, in that house, which is miraculously—despite the wreckage within—still standing.
Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: Jessica Lange kills it on Broadway.
Edward Rothstein, Wall Street Journal: Jessica Lange is the powerful incarnation of Eugene O’Neill’s morphine-addicted matriarch. Jonathan Kent’s direction and Ms. Lange’s performance really did keep the character’s descent under choreographed control, the steepness of the incline measured by Ms. Lange’s restless hands, her mercurial temperament, her wraith-like presence. It is a portrayal that sustains the audience in rapt voyeuristic attention almost to the end of the 3 3/4-hour performance (with one intermission). She is even on our minds during much of the final act, when we hear the ghostly thumps of a haunted soul searching through old trunks in an unseen attic. Ms. Lange last took on this role in a much praised production on London’s West End in 2000, but reports of those performances suggest that here is a more finely calibrated ensemble.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: The tenderness between Gabriel Byrne, in the towering role of the fading Broadway actor James Tyrone, and Jessica Lange, as his beloved but tormented wife Mary, brings welcome relief from the overall misery of Eugene O’Neill’s semi-autographical masterwork, “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” As staged by British director Jonathan Kent and acted by a cast that also includes Michael Shannon, the Roundabout Theater Company’s outstanding revival has a lighter tone and softer edges that, paradoxically, impart a deeper sorrow onto this classic domestic tragedy. Lange maintains close control over the mounting hysteria that will eventually send Mary literally up to the attic and into the past to relive every painful chapter of her history. She brings both grace and gravity to Mary’s futile efforts to deny reality — and a certain ravaged beauty to her comforting memories of a past that never was.
Jesse Green, Vulture: Something highly unexpected [has] happened in the eleven years since Lange was last seen in New York: her voice opened up, not just in volume but in range and color. Either that or sound technology has improved to the point that it can now make a symphony from a lone instrument. In any case, the change has allowed Lange to harness her interpretive gifts and triumph in a new Long Day’s Journey, directed by Jonathan Kent for the Roundabout. Her Mary has a broader emotional palette than any I’ve seen, including that of Vanessa Redgrave, who made her Mary a harrowing wraith dying from the play’s first words. Lange situates the character more as O’Neill depicts her: at the beginning of a relapse, not at the end. She is still a coquette, not only in the moderately sunny opening, but also in flashes throughout, as she continues to wrestle with her illness. It’s the struggle that makes the tragedy; indeed, her descent is far more painful for the shy pride she takes in her apparent good health at the start, and for the pleasure of her brogue as it occasionally flirts out like a well-turned ankle from beneath her long skirts. As a result, when she eventually heads up the long, long stairs of Tom Pye’s set to the morphine vials in the spare bedroom upstairs, you feel every step’s disaster. The unexpected size of Lange’s portrayal seems to have surprised and upended the whole production.
Linda Winer, Newsday: The temptation is to talk all day and into the night about Jessica Lange as Mary Tyrone in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” It’s hard not to dwell on the layers of hard-lived experience that appear and reappear, like a collage of time-lapsed photography, on her handsome face. It is equally difficult to resist trying to describe the vocal range that, scene upon tormented scene, roams astonishingly among the lilts of a smitten young convent girl and the frightening growls of a morphine-addicted woman whose illusions, like those of the three other haunted Tyrones, have been crushed….This really is, with perhaps one miscalculation, a stunning revival of this churning family exorcism. Gabriel Byrne has both the grating self-centeredness and a poignant, vain blindness as Mary’s husband James…Michael Shannon…makes his towering height and lugubrious mask shatter with devastating, piteous rage as the confessions and the recriminations pile up. A problem, and it isn’t a big one, is John Gallagher Jr., a fine actor whose portrayal of the sensitive, consumptive Edmund, O’Neill’s alter-ego, feels a bit too contemporary for 1912.
Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: And then there’s Lange. Mary, to whom the play is a testament but a mountain as well, regularly ascends the stairway to the “spare room” for a fix that’s never quite enough to allay her pain, nor enough to secure the illusion of happiness. Lange has the gift of Jane Greenwood’s diaphanous costumes and Natasha Katz’s exquisite lighting. She also has a delightful foil in Colby Minifie’s animated Cathleen, the maid. Over a mostly spectacular career, the two-time Oscar winner, who was nominated for the Olivier Award for this role, has made psychological complexity and transparency her hallmark, from the plays of O’Neill and Tennessee Williams to films including Frances, Cape Fear, Music Box and Country, to FX/s American Horror Story. With Lange leading the way, Mary begins this Journey a tragic figure and concludes it a ghost who will haunt our dreams, for a time.
Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Lange’s performance works against that openness to create Mary’s own desperate claustrophobia. It’s a big performance, but there’s nothing mechanical about it, especially the love that she projects back to Byrne. The great beauty of O’Neill’s play is its repetition. He captures the way families can be civil one moment and at one another’s throats the next. Under Jonathan Kent’s direction, Byrne and Lange handle those sharp changes in tone adeptly to create a mesmerizing dance of death.
Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: As the morphine-addicted Mary Tyrone in the latest Broadway revival of Eugene O’Neill’s bitter masterwork, Long Days Journey Into Night, Jessica Lange brings stunning colors to the role of a woman clawing her way through fog. You can’t take your eyes off her; it’s a mesmeric performance…Lange’s Mary is a desperate fighter, defensive and manipulative…By turns, she is loving, wistful, lonely, proud, vicious and confused — but above all, she is an addict. In Jonathan Kent’s production, the other actors orbit around Lange’s blazing star turn in painfully believable patterns of resignation. …Gabriel Byrne plays her husband, James, with striking weariness and restraint…As their dissolute oldest son, Jamie, the riveting Michael Shannon infuses his climactic drunk scene with acrid dark humor and reluctant, wounded tenderness toward his consumptive younger brother, Edmund (a willfully sincere John Gallagher Jr.).
Steven Suskin, The Huffington Post: What Jonathan Kent’s production has going for it, foremost, is a bravura performance by Jessica Lange. One expects that critic and audience reports will begin with encomiums for Ms. Lange. Deservedly so, likely followed by a Tony nomination next Tuesday morning. Lange—who first played this role in an unrelated 2000 production in London—is matched by Michael Shannon, as the wastrel brother Jamie. Shannon (Bug, Killer Joe and the recently opened “Elvis and Nixon”-) is one of those actors who seem incapable of giving a less-than-mesmerizing stage performance.
Elysa Gardner, USA Today: It’s Lange’s nuanced, quietly wrenching performance that anchors Roundabout Theatre Company’s new revival (* * * out of four stars) of Eugene O’Neill’s seminal dysfunctional-family drama…This staging, by British director Jonathan Kent, doesn’t pack the emotional or theatrical wallop of its predecessor, but its bleak naturalism remains compelling…it’s Lange who haunts us most. Having played Mary on the London stage 16 years ago, she returns to the part with an obvious and profound sense of empathy for this woman who is compared, more than once, to a ghost. Mary’s world, outside the drug-induced hazes, is hardly a comforting place, but you’ll leave it feeling very much alive.
Jeff Labrecque, Entertainment Weekly: At the center of the domestic storm is Jessica Lange, who played Mary during a 2000 run in London and has a masterful grasp of the character’s fragility — an intuitive strength after playing similar women in A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie – and…is wonderful in [this] revival. There is such confusion in Mary, such buried resentment, and Lange’s ability to portray a woman who is barely more than a ghost provides the story with enormous pathos.
Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: As the morphine-addicted Mary, Oscar-winner Jessica Lange maximizes her meaty role’s potential. Lange is blessed with an expressive voice and uses it like a musical instrument — soft and coquettish, warm and motherly, then barbed and brutal as if dredging words from a bottomless well of despair. From the get-go, her Mary is “on.” She walks backward to avoid eye contact with the men in her family. Her final scene, a drug-hazed dive back to her convent days, devastates. And when she’s not onstage, Lange is missed.
Robert Kahn, NBC New York: Lange was Olivier Award-nominated for this role 16 years ago on the West End. Byrne was Tony Award-nominated as Jamie Tyrone in 2000’s Broadway “Moon for the Misbegotten.” They know their O’Neill, and are suited to take us on the roller-coaster ride, set across one day that will prove a turning point in the lives of a troubled family. English theater director Jonathan Kent guides the simple and elegant, nearly 4-hour-long production…Leads Lange and Byrne share an effortless chemistry in which they are alternately tolerant of, and vile toward, one another — but always easily relatable. That’s quite an accomplishment when dealing with a piece of literature that drifts further away from naturalism as the the night wears on. Lange is magnetic as the family matriarch with no feeling of rootedness or sense of belonging, certainly not in the waterfront New England summer home the family complains is shoddily maintained. At the heart of her loss is the death of a child, Eugene, infected with measles when Jamie, as a young, sick boy, wandered into his room. Mary blames everyone for Eugene’s death, including herself. In Lange’s hands, the emotions seem sometimes spontaneous, and at others calculated to be wounding: “I blame only myself … I’ve always believed Jamie did it on purpose.” She makes sharp turns with the precision of a race-car driver.Lange still has the planes and proportions of her youthful beauty, but convinces us that she’s a woman whose hands are gnarled, and whose grace and bloom have deserted her. In a different lifetime, Mary might have been a classical pianist, but she took up with James and his journeyman actor’s lifestyle, setting a singular path in motion. Lange, for one, seems so immersed that we feel as if we were watching some real Mary Tyrone, and not that marvelous performer we remember from “Frances,” or for that matter, “Tootsie.”
Matt Windman, amNY: This is an extremely difficult play to pull off, relying on rich prose instead of overt action and featuring miserable characters basking in overwhelming despair. The performances here are exceptional all around, but the production is likely to grow smoother and more engrossing as the run continues…Lange’s Mary is a performance of unmistakable stature and refined acting ability…Lange exhibits more dramatic control, emphasizing Mary’s downward progression from denial and erratic mood swings into drug-induced euphoria. As James, Byrne shows vulnerability behind the miserly and defensive exterior.
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: A violent storm front has moved into the American Airlines Theater…it’s Gabriel Byrne, Jessica Lange, Michael Shannon and John Gallagher Jr. who are providing the thunder and lightning…Lange’s voice seesaws between soprano girlish affection and contralto hostility in a single sentence, and more than other Marys I’ve seen, she is endowed with a robust, uneasy sensuality. You can feel Ms. Lange giving her all to each of her big set pieces, exquisitely self-contained, like coloratura arias in an opera. Ms. Lange is often acting beautifully.
Alexis Soloski, The Guardian: The close of the play has always belonged to Mary, but Lange gets hold of much of the rest of it, too. Her Mary, a part she first played in the West End in 2000, can seem sweet, flighty, frail, but there’s an adamantine spine beneath that softness, one that’s been built on need and hurt. When provoked, she can turn as vicious as any of the men and she knows how to make her words cut more cruelly and deeply.
Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: Lange plays that drugged-up mother with courage. Her Mary Tyrone has fewer moments of lucidity than most, and too few moments when lucidity and the heebie-jeebies are duking it out before our eyes, but who nonetheless really goes to some dark spots. And there’s nothing artificial about that state of her being. It is expressed with profundity and truth. And that, along with Shannon’s unceasing attempts to unlock some of these scenes and spill out their devastating emotional content, is about the only truly successful aspect of this strangely marauding and meandering theatrical experience.
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