BAM’s ‘Long Day’s Journey’, starring Jeremy Irons, makes bold statement about opioids
Bristol Old Vic’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s classic offers a timely look at addiction
A long day’s journey into … opioid addiction?
No, Eugene O’Neill’s 1957 classic about the toll of morphine addiction and alcoholism is not about OxyContin, but the Bristol Old Vic production that opened at BAM last week intentionally tries to link the mid-century drama to today’s current drug crisis.
“I’ve tried to make it feel as if it’s a play that was written today,” director Richard Eyre said. “I’ve tried to make it as alive as possible, so it has from the moment it starts a kind of current going through it.”
Classics are classics because no matter when they were created, they speak to people across many eras. “Long Day’s Journey into Night” was first staged in 1957 and was set in 1912, but the plot feels plucked from today’s headlines — especially the ones about the 116 people who die every day from opioid overdoses.
The play follows Mary Tyrone (Lesley Manville) making it through a single day in a morphine-induced fog. Surrounded by her alcoholic family (Matthew Beard, Jeremy Irons and Rory Keenan), she says that the others just don’t understand her addiction, which began when a careless doctor prescribed her a drug she didn’t understand.
It’s a scenario that plays out today: doctor overprescribes pain medication, patient blindly accepts doctor’s authority and morality, patient becomes addicted to pain pills, a cycle grippingly described in Sam Quinones’ 2015 book, “Dreamland,” which sometimes feels like a non-fiction version of O’Neill’s drama.
Pretty grim stuff — especially as the Tyrone men ravage one another with crippling verbal assaults as Mary descends into wistful oblivion — but Eyre says his production is ultimately about hope.
“I find comfort in great art, because it proves to me that however low the human condition can sink, there’s hope; there’s a possibility for redemption,” he said. “I find that plays that have a very grave content, if they’re good plays and they’re well performed, there’s something exhilarating about coming into contact with that.”
Plus, O’Neill’s play is ultimately about a family, albeit a hyper-dysfunctional one, but one that everyone can recognize.
“The dynamic of families really doesn’t change from generation to generation,” Eyre said. “Families are defined by the fact that you can’t get away from them. You have no choice who your parents are. I hope the audience will come away with pity for these stricken people who are bound together through love, because that’s what families are, however tormented.”
“A Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is playing at the BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton St. at Rockwell Place through May 27. Visit www.bam.org for tickets.
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