Long Day's Journey Into Night is a dramatic play in four acts by Eugene O'Neill, widely considered to be his masterwork. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1957.
The action covers a fateful, heart-wrenching day (from around 8.30 in the morning to 12.00 midnight) in August of 1912 at the seaside Connecticut home of the Tyrones - the autobiographical representations of O'Neill himself, his brother, and their parents.
Mary Tyrone's Morphine Addiction
This is the result of the shoddy ministrations of a quack doctor during her difficult labor and delivery of Edmund twenty-three years prior. Tyrone is often blamed for this as his stinginess is cited as a reason he didn't pay for a better doctor. Mary is treated in a sanatorium for this condition. Even after being released from the institution, Mary is still addicted to morphine, but is unable to accept her addiction.
The day described in this play is very routine and repetitious. Act I scene i occurs right after breakfast, Act II scene i occurs before lunch and Act II scene ii occurs right after lunch. Act III occurs before dinner. Throughout the day, drinking is heavy and is perhaps the basis of the cycle of arguments which occur. Their arguments deal with the sickness of Edmund and the addiction of Mary, as well as the lack of commercial success experienced by Edmund and Jamie in comparison with their father. The arguments also deal with Mary's accusation that Tyrone does not provide a "real" home for her.
The male characters drink throughout the play. This provides them with a way to escape from the realities of the home. Mary does not drink, but also escapes from the home, through her use of morphine.
History of Play
Upon its completion in 1942, O'Neill had a sealed copy of the play placed in the vault of publisher Random House, and instructed that it not be published until 25 years after his death, and never performed. A formal contract to that effect was drawn up in 1945. However, O'Neill's third wife Carlotta Monterey transferred the rights of the play to Yale University, skirting the agreement. It was first produced on Broadway and published in 1956, three years after its author's death.
O'Neill presented the manuscript of the play to his wife Carlotta on their twelfth wedding anniversary in 1941, with a dedication that read:
"I give you the original script of this play of old sorrow, written in tears and blood. A sadly inappropriate gift, it would seem, for a day celebrating happiness. But you will understand. I mean it as a tribute to your love and tenderness which gave me the faith in love that enabled me to face my dead at last and write this play--write it with deep pity and understanding and forgiveness for all the four haunted Tyrones.
These twelve years, Beloved One, have been a Journey into Light-- into love. You know my gratitude. And my love!
July 22, 1941
In keeping with O’Neill’s wishes, Long Day's Journey Into Night was first performed by the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm, Sweden. During his lifetime, the Swedish had embraced O’Neill’s work to a far greater extent than had any other nation, including his own. Thus, the play had its world premiere in Stockholm on February 2, 1956, in a production directed by Bengt Ekerot, with the cast of Lars Hanson (James Tyrone), Inga Tidblad (Mary Tyrone), Ulf Palme (James Tyrone, Jr.), Jarl Kulle (Edmund Tyrone) and Caterine Westerlund (Cathleen, the serving-maid or "second girl" as O'Neill's script dubs her).
The Broadway debut of Long Day's Journey Into Night took place at the Helen Hayes Theatre on November 7, 1956. The production was directed by José Quintero, and its cast included Fredric March (James Tyrone), Florence Eldridge (Mary Tyrone), Jason Robards, Jr. (“Jamie” Tyrone) Bradford Dillman (Edmund), and Katharine Ross (Cathleen). The production won 1957 Tony Award for Best Play and Best Actor in a Play (Fredric March).
The play’s first production in the United Kingdom came in 1958, opening first in Edinburgh, Scotland and then moving to the Globe Theatre in London’s West End. It was directed again by Quintero, and the cast included Anthony Quayle (Tyrone), Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies (Mary), Ian Bannen (Jamie), Alan Bates (Edmund), and Etain O’Dell (Cathleen).
The play was made into a 1962 film starring Katharine Hepburn as Mary, Ralph Richardson as Tyrone, Jason Robards, Jr. as Jamie, Dean Stockwell as Edmund, and Jeanne Barr as Cathleen. The movie was directed by Sidney Lumet. At that year’s Cannes Film Festival Richardson, Robards and Stockwell all received Best Actor awards, and Hepburn was named Best Actress. Hepburn’s performance would later draw a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Another adaptation, directed by Canadian director David Wellington in 1996, starred William Hutt as Tyrone, Martha Henry as Mary, Peter Donaldson as Jamie, Tom McCamus as Edmund and Martha Burns as Cathleen. The same cast had previously performed the play at Canada's Stratford Festival; Wellington essentially filmed the stage production without significant changes. The film swept the acting awards at the 17th Genie Awards, winning awards for Hutt, Henry, Donaldson and Burns.
Other Notable Productions