Review: Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville Lead a Hard-Run ‘Long Day’s Journey’

Review: Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville Lead a Hard-Run ‘Long Day’s Journey’

They are spending what promises to be one very fraught summer together in their shabby family vacation home, by the docks, where the foghorns wail. (John Leonard is the first-rate sound designer.)

Each, it might be said, is in the throes of addiction. The men are heavy drinkers, while Mary, newly released from a sanitarium, is fighting a dependency on morphine.

But the most poisonous addiction is one they all share: the irresistible urge to stab at one another’s most vulnerable points, and then pretend they didn’t really mean it. That inexorable cycle of recrimination and consolation is what gives the play its genuine pity and terror.

Mary is the fulcrum of this circular process. And as soon as Ms. Manville opens her mouth, it is evident that in this “Journey,” which originated at the Bristol Old Vic in Britain, its tragic patterns will take shape on fast-forward.

The idea seems to be that Mary thinks that if she moves quickly enough, and keeps deflecting the attention from herself to the others, the suspicious men in her life won’t be able to tell if she’s using again. Ms. Manville — a paradigm of steely indirection in her brilliant Oscar-nominated performance in last year’s “Phantom Thread” — is in fully aggressive attack mode as Mary, and she sets the pace for the others.

For a while, it’s a gripping, oddly enjoyable approach. I’ve never seen a “Journey” in which the characters are so literally up in one another’s faces, pushing and pulling and scratching, before retreating into corners to regroup, before pouncing again.

If the menfolk seem to disappear in the blaze of Mary’s febrile energy, well, perhaps that’s as it should be. Mom on dope is ultimately a solo act, a notion nicely underscored by Peter Mumford’s shadow-sectioned lighting of Rob Howell’s oddly expressionist set, all reflective surfaces and towering bookcases. (Did the Tyrones really read that much?)

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