LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, Irish Repertory of Chicago, at Victory Gardens Theater. Eugene O'Neill asks one thing of artists tackling his grueling autobiographical portrayal of a self-destructive American family: that they speak the truth. It takes two and a half hours, but eventually director Sheldon Patinkin and his impressive cast find that truth. In the last of the play's four acts, the three men of the Tyrone family--defeated patriarch James (John Mahoney), his alcoholic son Jamie (John Judd), and his hopeful but consumptive son Edmund (David Cromer)--slash their way through decades of family traumas in scenes so rich with ire and regret you'd swear these three fine actors had lived their roles. They speak O'Neill's vernacular poetry with care and commitment, letting the light of truth shine from the darkest of moments.
Unfortunately this extraordinary final act highlights the falseness of almost everything that precedes it. In this nonsensical, haphazard staging, the actors seem to scour the stage rather than their relationships. The men's focus should be James's wife, Mary, a desperate morphine addict whose gradual dissolution triggers the family's implosion. But Annabel Armour, 20 years too young for the role, can't express the depth of her character's tragic entrapment, making her actions and the men's reactions to them seem perfunctory. The biggest problem, however, is Patinkin's misguided notion that this is a naturalistic play; given the characters' heightened, literary language, his slice-of-life direction makes most scenes feel stilted.