Some reflections on two productions that are closing on Sunday
AT OLDCASTLE THEATRE COMPANY IN BENNINGTON, VT
Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night," which is being given a sincere, generally workmanlike production at Oldcastle Theatre Company, begins in bright sunlight with a married couple, James and Mary Tyrone (Nigel Gore and Christine Decker), engaged in light, almost playful banter. The night fog has lifted; the foghorn that has blared through the night is silent and all looks right with the world. The scene is illusory for as the day on which O'Neill's towering drama plays out slips into midday, then early evening and then, eventually, midnight, the fog and dark will return — and stay.
The elder Tyrone is a retired actor and absentee landlord. As played by Gore he is an earthy figure, not far removed in temperament from his agrarian Irish ancestry. He is parsimonious to the fullest extent, not only with his money but also in terms of his emotional expenditures on his family, especially his two sons, the consumptive Edmund (Brendan McGrady in a beautifully shaped performance that shows as much spine as vulnerability), and James Jr. (Martin Jason Asprey in an affecting, thoughtfully rendered portrayal that catches the volatile, contradictory mix of emotions that threatens to tear James into shreds), a not-so-successful actor who spends his money freely on whores and alcohol. Hanging over them all is the health and welfare of their mother, who, as the play opens, has her drug addiction under control. But there are warning signs that will become alarms as, over the course of this fateful day, Mary makes her gradual descent into her own personal hell; a hell that will have consequences for all the Tyrones.
O'Neill takes his time as he peels away the veneer of respectability and exposes the self-centered interests that divide the Tyrones from one another.
Director Eric Peterson's production moves with purpose even if, at the same time, his actors only barely scratch the play's surface.
The biggest strength is with the two sons, particularly Asprey who, without giving in to melodrama, catches a brooding, self-destructive tendency within Jamie. At one point, having warned Edmund, for whom he clearly has brotherly affection, that he poses a threat to him, Asprey's Jamie settles on stretches out on his back on a chaise — worn, weary from years of battling; years of waste, decline and recrimination.
As Mary, Decker also works steadily and purposefully achieving in the play's concluding moments a frightening vulnerability and surrender as the dark night toward which she has been traveling enfolds her.
How ironic. By a quirk of scheduling, this masterwork of American drama overlaps a prodiction — 34 miles to the south in Pittsfield — of another iconic American play about family in trouble, Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie" at Barrington Stage Company. Talk about dysfunction junction.
"Long Day's Journey Into Night." Directed by Eric Peterson. Through Sunday at Oldcastle Theatre Company, 331 Main St., Bennington, Vt. Performances — Friday evening at 7:30; Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday afternoon at 2. Running time: 2 hours, 55 minutes. Tickets: $39. Reservations/Information: 802-447-0564; oldcastletheatre.org
AT CAPITAL REPERTORY THEATRE IN ALBANY, N.Y.
It is 1905. America is neck-deep into Jim Crow and black heavyweight boxing champ Jay Jackson wants a shot at the retired white world heavyweight champ. It's not enough to be the black champ, Jackson tells his feisty manager, Max, in Marco Ramirez' powerful, exhilarating theatrical drama, "The Royale," which is winding up a three-week run Sunday at Capital Repertory Theatre. He will gain respect, he says, only by taking on the reigning champ who refuses to take on a black challenger.
Jackson, played by Thomas Silcott with a compelling blend of pride, authority, authenticity,determination, and an-at-times cocky self-assurance, is inspired by the real-life boxer Jack Johnson, the country's first African American heavyweight champion who issued a challenge to world heavyweight champ Jim Jeffries, who refused to fight Johnson until he was pressured into meeting Johnson in a match in 1908 that Jeffries lost after 14 rounds. It's a story that's been told onstage in Howard Sackler's "The Great White Hope.
The stakes are high, a point that is driven home by Jay's sister, Nina (played forcefully and with great compassion by Ramona L. Alexander) who warns Jay of imminent threats of violence and suggests it might be in everyone's best interests if, completely on his own, he throws the fight and loses.
Under Megan Sandberg-Zakian's direction, "The Royale" moves with lightning force and unrelenting galvanic drive. The ingeniously choreographed fight sequences are staged with the opponents side by side, facing the audience, each isolated in a pool of light. Foot stomping substitutes for punches. Bodies react in kind. Rhythmic clapping adds to the dramatic texture. In one of the play's craftier turns, Nina becomes a surrogate for Bixby, the white champ; challenging Jay in every way. he may be fighting Bixby but it's Nina's voice he hears, Nina's body that is in his way, taking punches, delivering punches as good as she gets; Jay's conscience, of sorts, as she squeezes him in a vice of moral choices.
Mark W. Soucy is sharp and effective as Max as are Jeorge Howard Winton as Jay's trainer, Wynton, and Jonathan Louis Dent as Fish, a talented young fighter whom Jay takes on as his sparring partner.
In this, a world unfolds in roughly 75 minutes.
"The Royale" by Marco Ramirez. Directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian. Through Sunday at Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl St., Albany, N.Y. Performances — Friday evening at 8; Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m.; Sunday afternoon at 2. Running time: 1 hour, 16 minutes. Tickets: $20-$65. Reservations/Information: 518-445-7469; capitalrep.org