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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: "Long voyage du jour à la nuit", suffocant huis clos

by Rosa Moussaoui

"Long Day’s Journey into Night", a Suffocating ’huis clos’

Translated Friday 25 March 2011, by Henry Crapo and reviewed by Edward Lamb

Célie Plauthe succeeds in a talented staging, at the Théâtre de la Colline [1], of Long Day’s Journey into Night, the final play written by the American playwright Eugene O’Neill.

In the anguishing solitude of a hotel room, phantom-like silhouettes surge forth under the haggard gaze of an ageless man. Here commences a plunge into a temporal abyss where past, present and future become one.

Long Day’s Journey into Night [2] is the last play written by Eugene O’Neil (1888-1953), a dramatic poet of genius, a founding figure of American theatre. Célie Plauthe succeeds, at the Théâtre de la Colline, in creating a talented staging of this long piece, a testamentary work, in which the author comes to grips with his own phantoms.

In the shadowy corners of a suffocating huis clos [3], a father, a mother, and two sons stutter, confront one another, hug one another, lost in the throes of the conflicting sentiments they share.

The father, James Tyrone (Alain Libolt) is a has-been thespian, an avaricious old man whose ambitions are drowned in alcohol and in the platitude of a career in the form of an impasse. His elder son, James Tyrone Junior (Pierre Baux), is a failed comedian who continues to dream of Broadway, but never manages to kill his boredom in the dismal brothels where he gets drunk whenever he has a few dollars in his pocket. The younger son, Edmund (Philippe Duclos) has contracted tuberculosis, and seems unable to find peace either in his travels or in poetry. As for the mother, Mary (Valérie Dréville), she moves through fogs of morphine, drifting, after a relapse, to those shores known only to herself, unable to silence either her regrets, her pains, or the culpability that devours her.

Everyone relives their broken dreams, their ancient resentments, their memories, their faith, whether denied or lost. Never finding a way out from the impasse in which they seem to be trapped.

Pale and guilt ridden, all are burdened with a "history too heavy to carry". In the hovel in Connecticut where this uprooted family sometimes stays, the four of them re-enact, from dawn to midnight, their insoluble conflicts. Continuing then to give form to an authentic tragedy, in the center of which is revealed, bit by bit, the unassimilated mourning for an infant who died before the birth of Edmund. The author fatally identifies with the ghost who haunts these tortured people. In a pathetic gesture of paradoxical inversion, the author renames him Eugene.

This is a difficult score, which the cast plays without a single false note, in a crescendo of feelings that never falls into psycho-drama. The final act, above all, is luminous. There the father and the sick son, then the two brothers, say everything, including the unbearable, in a language of extraordinary poetic power, rediscovering their "broken eloquence" [4].

Then emerges a transfigured Mary, as if escaped from the depths of this hell. One leaves this performance feeling, as O’Neill felt when he finished writing the play, "physically emptied".

[1Théâtre de la Colline, Paris, Tuesday through Saturday at 20h, Sunday at 16h, until 9 April, 9€-27€, 01-44-62-52-52. At the Comédie de Reims 13-19 April, and at the Théâtre nacional de Marseille, la Criée, 4-12 May.

[2written 1941, first performed 1956. Pulitzer Prize 1957.

[3A family drama behind closed doors. “No Exit” is one possible translation for the title of a 1944 existentialist French play by Jean-Paul Sartre. The original French title is Huis Clos, the French equivalent of the legal term in camera, referring to a private discussion behind closed doors; English translations have also been performed under the titles In Camera, No Way Out and Dead End.

[4“The wife knew nothing of it. She sought him everywhere, she moved the hardest hearts with the supplications of her tears, the broken eloquence of her despair”, Mark Twain, in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court 

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