How ‘Kill Move Paradise’s’ Set Reflects Radical Possibilities

A young, black man appears suddenly at the far end of a prism-like corridor, gasping for air. He regains his composure and explores his surroundings. The entire corridor is mirrored except for two long rectangular openings on his left and right. Through these openings he spots the audience, which sits on either side, facing each other, staring into the corridor. He seems simultaneously pleased and uncomfortable to see us there.

A paper airplane flies into his hand. He reads the paper and begins to shake with dread. His convulsing body is reflected infinitely throughout the corridor. Soon, the man will be joined by three others who pass through the same motions. The men, we learn, are victims of police violence against black men. The corridor is a holding space for their souls, as they make sense of their deaths and contextualize their pain in our national and personal histories.

Kill Move Paradise, written by James Ijames and directed by Saheem Ali, succeeds in building community in the wake of ongoing national pain (I resist the impulse to write ‘tragedy’ because ‘tragedy’ implies a fatalistic, uncontrollable scenario). Ijames’ writing is an ambitious project and aims to both examine and to heal.  It is simultaneously all of the following: an elegy for the slain; an incisive and uncomfortable commentary that uses every theatrical conventions like song and dance to disturb and excite; a contemporary ritual to cleanse our past in hope for future generations. The National Black Theater, which helmed the production, hosts talkbacks at the end of every show, and I can’t remember the last time when everyone in an audience found something truly meaningful in a production.

Rather than go down a check list of the play’s triumphs, I want to focus my attention on how ONE production choice encompasses its radical endeavor: Maruti Evans’ mirrored set. An infinite hallway that both reflects and distorts. A stand-alone piece (a la carnival funhouse) but also integral to the piece. Here are 5 ways that Evans’ set mirrors the possibilities of Kill Move Paradise:


  1. It’s minimal.

Even though it’s striking the set never overwhelms you, which allows our focus to shift towards the plays other outstanding features – an energetic, protean cast, a resounding script, etc. But the set also set outs to surprise you. Shifting floorboards allow for the men’s sudden entrances. At one end, a transparent lift allows for the tension-filled entrance of the youngest of the victims.

Photo by Christine Jean Chambers
  1. It’s infinite.

Kill Move Paradise’s ambition is to speak for black victims of police institutional violence dating back to (judging from the repeated Christian references) Jesus. The history of police violence is not history but rather an ongoing crisis. And as each new victim gets written into the narrative, added to the long scroll of men’s names read aloud during the play (a list which grew bigger during the play’s rehearsals) the past and the future mediate the present. Each new shooting invokes those that came before it and those that have yet to come.

The set’s mirrored surface creates an infinitude of reflected men. A repeated pattern of death and of injustice is set out before us. And yet, some may feel hope in seeing the multitude of men together, striving to understand the circumstances that led them to this place, resolving to mourn and, in time, to see their community united.


  1. It distorts the image.

A certain parts of the hallway, the mirrors are distorted, creating a slightly grotesque atmosphere to the men’s reflections. The distortions emphasize the distortion of the narratives we receive in the media and in popular culture about the killings. Information often gets filtered through the biases of political leanings, of social and racial structures, of a news outlet’s desire to get more clicks. And even if we were to rid our media of these biases, how could we see these dead men differently? How could we account for their humanity, their souls? To see them as more than just another name on a list of the dead, another cause to champion? How can we find the truth of who they were? How can we find the truth to never let it happen again?


  1. It slants upwards.

Besides the mirrors, the sole defining structural feature of the hallway is a ramp extending upwards to what appears to the characters as an exit from their condition. The men try to escape, but when they do, a divine stroke of electricity prevents them from getting up. Their desperation grows, and one of the men repeats the cycle of running up the hill, getting electrified, and rolling back down helplessly for an uncomfortably long stretch of time. What must they do to escape?

The uphill struggle of the characters to understand and to reconcile their fates with those that are to come, stays in view at all times.

Photo by Garlia C. Jones-Ly
  1. It’s voyeuristic.

The actors confront the audience at several points throughout the play. Why are we watching them, all peepshow-like? What are we there to accomplish? As they begin to understand their own deaths, why do we continue to watch? Are we entertained?


The audience’s role in the theater and our wakened consciousness is clearly a concern to Ijames. It’s a question that has dogged avant-garde playwrights for over a century. How do we create critical, thinking audiences instead of passivized, complacent consumers? How can we best ensure that this art will change the way they perceive the world? Evans’ set places us a voyeurs of the afterlife, seeking the pleasures that a night at the theater might imply for us. There’s also something pleasurable about the nature of viewing the play itself. There may be  pleasure in the comfort of seeing the continued existence of these men’s souls (and our souls, for that matter) in an afterlife. The play may provide a sense of closure, much like the idea of seeing our loved ones eternally in heaven.


And yet, Kill Move Paradise smartly withholds that pleasure from us by confronting us with our own gaze. Not only do the actors acknowledge (and therefore disempower it), but we also see the other half of the audience watching across the stage, looking through the facing view.


Furthermore, none of our view are ever complete. The view of an actor’s head is cut off if he’s standing atop the ramp. And I sometimes had to rely on some of the mirrors in order to see the action happening on the floor. This again, distorts our view, showing us that no one point of view is all-encompassing or all-knowing.  Every person’s perspective of the events on stage is different merely because of where they are sitting and what they can see.


Kill Move Paradise played at the National Black Theater in Spring 2017.

“The Cooping Theory” Brings Us to Poe’s Old Haunts


It’s near impossible to read any of Edgar Allan Poe’s works without connecting their dark, unnerving despair with that of his own life. Orphaned at an early age, Poe’s adulthood was characterized by debt, failure, and the deaths of those closest to him, including his wife Virginia. Two years after Virginia’s death, Poe was found delirious and incoherent in the streets of Baltimore, wearing clothes that were not his own. He passed away a few days later. His death has been shrouded in gothic mystery and controversy, and the eerie circumstances surrounding it are reminiscent of those in his writings.

This is the launching point of Poseidon Theatre Company’s new immersive work, The Cooping Theory: Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe? The year is 1949, a century after Poe’s death. Audience members are invited down to the speakeasy cellar of St. Mazie Bar and Supper Club in Brooklyn for a meeting of the Poe Society. During the hour-long dinner service (which was very tasty), the society’s three members introduce themselves to you. There’s Virginia (Caroline Banks), a scholar named after Poe’s wife. John (Jeffrey Robbs) is a psychologist financing the society and James (Gordon Palagi) is a skeptic whose opinions often get ignored.

Here’s largely where the immersive nature of the production comes into play. More Great Comet than Sleep No More, the actors interact with you and around you while you are seated, though they may pull you aside for a brief chat in the hallway. They also might give you an incensed stick to burn to purify the area. I’ve wondered in the past about what actually constitutes as ‘immersive,’ but PTC’s definition vividly appeals to all the senses.

Gordon Palagi in “The Cooping Theory.” Photo by Johannes Oberman

The society has invited a medium (Dara Kramer) to call upon Poe’s ghost to solve the mystery of his death once and for all. The title refers to the society’s best working theory: a 19th century practice known as ‘cooping’ in which political gangs kidnapped strangers and forced them to vote multiple times at different stations under different aliases, often in disguise. The victims were often drugged and beaten if they did not comply.


The medium is successful at contacting Poe, but with complications, as supernatural events are wont to have. But what follows doesn’t ever manage to raise the stakes for any drama to unfold. At its best, The Cooping Theory is an homage to Poe’s writing and a meditation on the grief mirrored in his life and his works. There are beautiful recitations from “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee,” among others. But the story never develops fully to make us invested in the society’s mission. Their plot feels doomed from the start.


That the production does do well is setting a melancholic, though inviting atmosphere for us to relive Poe’s desperate final years. This is in large part due to the music and sound design by Conor Heffernan and Manuel “Cj” Pelayo. This is a gratifying part of the immersion of the play. Their lush, surrounding sounds helped move the events of the play forward. St. Mazie itself also works wonders in setting the feel of the play. The actors note that Poe himself passed through the one-time speakeasy, and it certainly feels it. The long, gloomy, candlelit corridor stretching back to the entrance makes a perfectly spooky entry point for the seance’s host.


The Cooping Theory: Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe? is directed by Aaron Salazar and written by Nate Suggs and Samantha Lacey-Johnson. It plays at St. Mazie Bar and Supper Club. Tickets here.

LMezz Interviews Geoff Sobelle

Sara interviews Geoff Sobelle straight off the run of his solo show The Object Lesson at New York Theatre Workshop. The Object Lesson is a performance-installation about the objects we keep and the significance of objects in our lives. The audience is surrounded by storage boxes, which we are encouraged to rummage through. Sobelle combines storytelling, illusion, and movement to recover our most meaningful memories through all our stuff.

sobelle_geoff_object_lesson_2015-16_04_ppGeoff is the choreographer and a performer in Holoscenes, a free public art installation in Times Square June 1-3 from 6-11pm as part of the World Science Festival. His next show, Home, will be performed in New York in Fall 2017.

“Venus,” the Gaze, and What Brantley Gets Wrong About Bodies

There’s a moment in Venus where a crimson curtain, which has been covering the top third of the stage, parts and reveals an audience of mounted doll heads looking down at the actors. The heads are of identical white male faces, a slick mustache their only definable characteristic. They represent the audience of the 19th century operating theater, where surgeons gathered to observe the latest advancements in surgical procedures and medical information. Below them, the Baron Doctor (played by John Ellison Conlee) exhibits the living body of Saartjie Baartman (Zainab Jah), whose large breasts and posterior, for some reason, pose some value for biological inquiry. The doctor’s cold, scientific calculations fetishize Saartjie’s body, reducing it to mass and composition. He speaks of her maceration, or the dismemberment and measurement of her body after death, to the other doctors with hopes of the results it will yield. When she asks, he tells her the word is French for “after lunch.”

The operating theater scene reminds us that every part of our world, even the fields of science and medicine, are constantly being performed and constructed. Here, in this moment, we the audience are presented with the mirror audience of the white, male heads, whose gaze penetrates Saartjie with the full force of their socially produced authority and privilege. First, we are confronted with the fact that science is deeply rooted in social and gender constructions. It enforces these constructions under the guise of rationality and the pursuit of knowledge. Yet, its danger comes precisely from the objectivity and authority with which we endow it. For centuries, western medicine has used scientific inquiry to prove the superiority of white people over non-whites. In the same way, science has been used to silence women displaying unfeminine traits and labeling them as hysterical.

Second, by meeting our gaze with that of the mounted heads, the production forces us to be aware of the power of our own gaze in the theater. Does ours match the fetishizing gaze of the doctors’? Do we marvel, like 19th century audiences, at Saartjie’s exoticized body and the ‘otherness’ of her features?


Ben Brantley’s review of Venus suggests that he did not question the value and intent of his gaze, as this scene so distinctively begs us to do. Here’s how he opens:

“Attention, please, those of you whose greatest ambition is to acquire the traffic-stopping body of Kim Kardashian. There is a less drastic alternative to costly and dangerous buttocks implants.”

Anyone writing a review of this play with some level of critical self-awareness would have known this approach was completely and utterly wrong. Brantley chooses to open his review of a play about Western civilization’s dehumanization and fetishization of the black female body by quite lazily fetishizing a woman’s curvy bottom.

As many on Twitter already pointed out, this comparison between Kim Kardashian and Saartjie Baartman suggests that Baartman has the privilege and power of a Kardashian, when in fact, she was treated as a medical curiosity. The opening trivializes her story in favor of a overly baiting line about butts. Besides, the Kardashian/Baartman comparison has been made before, but with a criticism of Kardashian’s exploitation of exoticized bodies.  The rest of the opening paragraph considers the comfort of the costume.

“To wit: the fulsomely padded body stocking that is being modeled with flair and poignancy by Zainab Jah … It’s doubtful as to how comfortable such a stocking is as 24-hour wear. But it has the great advantage of not being permanent.“

If Brantley took this opportunity to reflect on the emotional and physical distress Baartman must have felt for being inseparable from her “24-hour” body, or to consider the role of Jah as a storyteller who has the privilege of stepping in and out of Baartman’s physique at will, then that might have held something aspiring to criticism. However, Brantley only marvels at the exoticism of Baartman’s body, seeing it as an “advantage” to be able to step out of it. The objectification and evaluation of socially taboo bodies (black bodies, fat bodies, etc.) is not a mystery to contemporary readers. Neither is the power of others to step in and out of those bodies at free will without having to face the discrimination experienced when actually living day-to-day with that body. Think of skinny actors who are called brave for donning a fat suit while fat actors struggle for roles. Or white pop stars who adopt an “urban” style for their performances while calling black performers uncivilized. Or able-bodied performers who play suicidal paraplegics while disabled activists rally for more empowerment on screen. Yes, one could transfer in and out of Baartman’s body with “flair and poignancy” in order to don “traffic-stopping” curves without facing the constant struggle that those who live with that body deal with. Many women do have Baartman’s physique and they may wish it were only a costume too. But Brantley’s comments not only highlight his ignorance of the ways in which bodies are commodified for mass critique and consumption, they also shows him practicing that commodification.

And as a side note, whose attention is Brantley seeking? Women lusting after Kim K/Saartjie’s curves? Does he imagine that we women look at the show poster and see a desirable (and not, say, the dangers her body presents)? Is he aware of the character and history of the body displayed?


All this comes hot on the heels of Jesse Green’s appointment to NYT Co-Chief Theater Critic, a post that many hoped would be filled by a woman, preferably of color. Calls for a diverse candidate were widespread. The newspaper’s reviews play a deciding factor in a show’s commercial success and are an influential source for performing arts journalism.

Last year, The New Yorker’s Hilton Als reviewed The New Group’s Sweet Charity. The piece came under fire for sexist characterizations of director Leigh Silverman and star Sutton Foster. Als won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism last month.

To the Rude, Old, White Man Who Ruined “The Antipodes” For Me on April 6

Sir?…Excuse me, sir? Can you hear me? Sir?

Oh, good. I see you put your hearing aids back in your ears.  I saw you in the first row, taking them out 45 minutes through the show, presumably so you could sleep undisturbed.

In the first row.

So you wouldn’t have to hear the actors… despite sitting in the first row.

Everyone saw you do that. At least, everyone on my side of the theater. The theater is set up so that one half of the audience is seated facing the other.

And you, sir, were seated in the first freaking row.


We also saw you poke, pester, and complain to the woman seated next to you, presumably your wife–someone obliged to put up with your childish bullshit. She smiled at your snarky eye-rolls, your audible sighs and groans, your angry shrugs and leg-crossing. The person on your other side also seemed to patiently endure your immature antics. You likely felt it more important for them to hear your reckless displays of old-man annoyance than the dialogue on stage.

And to top it all off, during a quiet moment just 20 seconds before the play’s final line, you loudly stated, “This is Hell!” for the whole theater to hear. My mouth went wide. You were a mere two feet away from the actors. You made their bows very uncomfortable.

At no point did anyone in the audience tap you on the shoulder and ask you to be more respectful. At no point did the Signature Theater staff find your behavior worth noting. If you were a person of color, a 35 year old woman, or a teenager, your actions would have been met with more policing.  That, sir, to use the million dollar buzzword, is privilege.

When I arrived to my seat in the theater that evening, an elderly couple to my right was in the middle of a conversation about how young people have no theater etiquette. “It’s a shame,” the husband said. “No one teaches them how to behave anymore.” Woe to us, the lost generation! Alas, the under-30 audiences who just can’t seem to understand that live performance entails shutting your trap for 90 minutes and putting away your phones!

Never mind that every time a cell phone goes off during a performance, I can safely bet that the culprit’s a Blanche Devereaux look-alike with brightly-hued hair, or a large Rex Tillerson type with one of those snap phone cases attached to his belt. Never mind that I’ve seen middle school groups behave with more courtesy and enthusiasm than some season subscribers.  No, it’s the young ones who ruin it all.

Everyone was talking about your rude behavior on their way out of the theater, but to my surprise they didn’t condemn it. A group of friends nearly jumped at each other with big smiles and jaws dropped, recapping the awkward final moments of the show. I saw a chance to commiserate and quickly summed up my thoughts (a basic 10-second summary of this article). They replied, “Well I thought it was hilarious.”

It takes a village to ruin a curtain call.

Now look, sir. I know what it’s like to hate a show. You just happened to attend a play by the notoriously divisive Annie Baker. Her stuff’s not for everyone. But that’s the extent of my sympathy for you here. Unlike her longer plays, “The Antipodes” clocks in at a mere 90 minutes, so let’s not presume that it was a terrible test of your stamina. That shouldn’t matter. I’ve longed for many an hour of my life back, finding the dirt under my fingernails far more attractive than whatever plodding development was happening on stage.  But I’ve maintained a semblance of adult composure, at least until intermission when I wake myself up with some candy, or in worst cases, quietly leave the show.

If there are rules to spectatorship, and I want as few of them as possible, they would be: 1) respect the rest of the audience and 2) respect the actors. You got away with breaking both of these rules because your behavior was perceived as entertaining. Because you’re in a position of power to judge others and not turn that judgment on yourself. Because the staff and audience of the theater doesn’t see your presence in the theater as an anomaly or an intrusion.

I hope your future experiences at the theater are happier, for your sake and mine…and the actors’. In the mean time, I hope I’ll have something ready to say the next time some old, white person complains about my generation’s rude, undignified behavior.

Update: I’m shutting down comments after leaving them open for about a week. I started feeling like they were a bit repetitive and some were quite hateful. I took them seriously, even the hateful ones, and responded to them with as much seriousness and thought as I could muster.

‘The Great American Drama’ Craves Your Review

If I were a performer, I wouldn’t read my reviews. All that crippling self-doubt and second-guessing? The conflicting, exaggerated demands of a short-sighted audience who just started thinking about my show a few hours ago, while I’ve been grappling with it for months? There’s a reason why comments section have a disable button.

And yet, constant audience review is precisely the motivating force behind the New York Neo-Futurists’ latest show, The Great American Drama, playing through February 5th at A.R.T. Theaters.  Creator Connor Sampson and performers Nicole Hill, Katy-May Hudson, and Dan McCoy gathered nearly 500 surveys that gauged theatregoers’ ideal show. The survey asks participants to rank theatrical elements in order of importance, to state what would they pay to see, suggestions for making money as artists, and other questions to help make the best show possible. The performers try to satisfy as many of the audience’s demands as possible in 90 minutes (the timing’s definitely done right), attempting to create something that is crowd-pleasing in the purest sense of the word. At the end of the night, Sampson asks the audience and his co-stars whether the performance was a success. Audience members text a rating to an online poll, which gets projected on stage and gives the show a grade.

Continue reading “‘The Great American Drama’ Craves Your Review”

She Loves Me Live: What Worked, What Didn’t, and Where to Go From Here

She Loves Me debuted live on the televisions, mobile screens, and hearts of aspiring theatergoers everywhere last week. And despite a few initial technical difficulties, we stalwart viewers trudged on, stuck on our couches in pajamas, with cartons of vanilla ice cream on hand for Act 2, because we really had nothing better to do on a Thursday night than see Laura Benanti hit that high B.

But as interest in live-streamed theater expands from the few pioneering theater companies in England to the Broadway stage, and as major television networks keep adding live musicals to their annual lineup, it’s important to discuss how a successful live performance translates to a successful film, and what that says about each medium’s ability to create engaging narratives. I’ve been working on this question for over a year now, and it would take a couple of subsequent posts to give the topic its due exploration. So for now, let’s talk about She Loves Me Live specifically, what worked and what didn’t, and what the BroadwayHD experiment can show us about the theater experience.

What Worked: The Ballads and Solos

Close-ups were made for moments like Amalia’s somber ballad “Will He Like Me?,” a song which didn’t move me much when I saw it on stage but gained power with a camera framing Laura Benanti’s hopeful, yet troubled expressions. It’s the first solo in the show sung by a character alone, and an intensely personal moment for Amalia, whose fantasies about her dear friend are starting to become real. Film can be the best medium for this: bringing out nuances of emotion, making the imaginative become real.


Same goes for Amalia’s other solo reflections on her love life, “Dear Friend” and “Vanilla Ice Cream,” and Ilona’s “I Resolve.” The camera served to intensify the soul-searching power of these songs and make these women’s journey’s feel so much more intimate

What Didn’t: The Ensemble Pieces and Dances

Large ensemble songs and dances serve a different storytelling purpose. Rather than closing in on intimate character-centric moments, they tend to broaden the brush of the plot with spectacle, environment, relationships, and sometimes pure silliness. The only way for a camera to capture the hugeness of these moments is to cut to different angles of the stage. A wide shot of the entire stage just doesn’t work on film: it’s almost too overwhelming, too theatrical. Thus dance-heavy songs like “Romantic Atmosphere” and even Kodaly’s “Ilona” lose their punch (even if “Romantic Atmosphere” didn’t quite have much punch to begin with) in sacrifice to quick camera changes and ineffective angling. Somehow the human eye works differently watching a live performance in person than the camera’s eye. In person, we resist direction and close-ups, absorbing the entirety of the scene even if it’s a little at a time.

What Worked: The Realistic Performances

Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi are no strangers to television, and it certainly showed by how friendly the camera was to their performances. Benanti’s delivery always struck me as realistic and natural, which is really the preferred modus operandi for great film acting (you could argue that it’s also great for stage acting, but more on that later). Levi’s performance is more animated, but no less perfect for the camera. I’m sure you could find at least ten gif-able Zachary Levi expressions; he’s mastered the art of the manically uncomfortable smile.

Another performance that translated well to camera was Tom McGowan’s understated everyman Cipos. McGowan is a veteran television actor, and his lovable oafish just-trying-to-make-a-buck character feels like a the kind of small gem that needs the close-up framing of a tv screen to help him not be overshadowed by the larger personalities on stage.

What Didn’t: The Unrealistic Performances

Just to clarify: I don’t mean to separate the show’s performers into good or bad actors. Everyone in this cast does a fine job to be honest. But I think more theatrical styles of performance are better for the stage as opposed to film. Take Peter Bartlett’s hilarious turn as the Maître D’. Bartlett uses a lot of clown-like mannerisms and delivers his lines in exaggerated, breathy fashion. It’s fun to watch his meltdown on stage as he dramatically staggers across the stage in anxious anger and scowls for several seconds before recovering his volatile composure. But this extreme theatricality requires a suspension of disbelief, which is never something that translates well on camera.


The same, I’d say, goes for Jane Krakowski as Ilona. Even though her performance isn’t as exaggerated as Bartlett, her deadpan delivery has a vaudevillian streak to it that emphasizes presence and charm over nuance of character. On stage, it’s thrilling. On camera, boring.

What Worked: Set Changes

David Rockwell won a Tony for Maraczek’s Faberge-egg of a set, and the video recording did a great job of framing each set change with the high-definition detail and beauty it deserves.

What Didn’t: Seasons Change

That cute bit where the passing of time is indicated by a stagehand throwing autumn leaves (and then winter snow) on the audience? Seemed sort of lame on television. Again, theatrics don’t translate well.

What Worked: It’s LIVE, People!

I loved seeing the shadows of the back of people’s heads as they watched the performance. It was a great reminder that this whole show was performed live in real time, interrupting the visual determination a camera can produce. It’s also a bit like the moments when cast members on Saturday Night Live slip up during a skit. We love those bits so much because they reveal a bit the reality behind the show. Seeing behind the process of how something is created helps us appreciate the craft that goes into it.

Speaking of slip ups, Laura Benanti dropping ice cream on her bed sheets should be instituted into every performance of the show from now on.

What Didn’t: Misuse of Pre-show, Post-show, and Intermission

Before the show, we got a nice, little interview with Jane Krakowski and the significance of the show on her career and family life. It was worth a soundbite or two. But really? We had a whole 15-minute intermission that could have been spent with more artist interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, discussion on the history of the show, maybe even a special guest or two. Instead we got Justin Guarini counting down the ways Broadway HD is better than seeing the real show. First off, I disagreed with nearly every single point. Second, for an organization who claims to supplement live theater attendance and not replace it, that was definitely not the way to express it. Let’s get a bit more creative with the way we use this precious, precious time, BroadwayHD. I can interview Laura Benanti for you if you want.

What Worked: People all around the country got to see a great work of theater. Broadway became accessible. A stunning show was preserved through technology. And I got to write about this stage-to-screen trend. Let’s do this again sometime, eh? Vanilla ice cream for all!

“Long Day’s Journey Into Night” on Broadway

Long Day’s Journey Into Night premiered on Broadway in 1957, over a decade after Eugene O’Neill had originally finished the play. The autobiographical work about O’Neill’s family was not to be produced until after the his  death, at the bequest of the playwright. Long Day’s Journey has since become a Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning work that is an American theatre classic.

Now, Roundabout Theatre has revived Long Day’s Journey for a Broadway run at the American Airlines Theatre. The play follows Mary Tyrone (the resplendent Jessica Lange), wife to James Tyrone (Gabriel Byrne) and mother to James Tyrone, Jr. (Michael Shannon) and Edmund Tyrone (John Gallagher, Jr.). Edmund keeps coughing in a way that hints at something worse than a cold, and James and Jamie seem to be in a contest for most embittered alcoholic. But the most troubled person in the family by far is Mary, who is struggling with an opiate addiction that threatens to break the strained family bonds.

Whenever a older show makes its way back to the Broadway stage, I always wonder why it’s coming back. (Besides the obvious reasons: the producers paid for it, a movie star wants to be taken seriously for their acting, it’s a beloved show that hasn’t been on stage in eight billion years, etc.) While watching Long Day’s Journey, I found myself asking that question repeatedly. I will say that Jessica Lange’s performance is worth price of admission alone: she is captivating through and through, giving humanity to the troubled characters she plays. Mary is no different: she is charming and coquettish in one breath, sullen and rarely sober in the next. But you feel for her plight, despite the anguish she gives her family. The rest of the cast also does well: Byrne is enigmatic as the patriarch, Shannon takes on his role as the contemptuous son with a touch of knowing humor, and Gallagher Jr. is adorably troubled as always. (Also, Colby Minifie is delightful as Cathleen, the family maid.) The performances, guided by the clean and careful direction of Jonathan Kent, make Long Day’s Journey a solid revival. Mary’s addiction problems are just as relevant as they were in O’Neill’s time, if not more today, with the rise of opiate addiction in the United States.

Photo by Sara Krulwich/ The New York Times

But we can’t get away from the fact that Long Day’s Journey Into Night is, well… long. Clocking in at 3 hours and 45 minutes, Long Day’s Journey is even longer than most revivals of Shakespearean tragedies. And no amount of sleek direction or compelling performances can change that. While O’Neill’s characters are compelling and oh-so-human, their dialogue (and meandering monologues) can be repetitive. And by the time you hear Edmund waxing poetically about being on a ship, you wish that you sail away from the theatre instead. (Meanwhile, the act divisions made you feel even more aware that you were in for a long show: perplexingly, a curtain on a rail would slowly be dragged across the stage , making you think the cast is taking a quick shower between scenes.)

There are many worthwhile elements into Long Day’s Journey. Eugene O’Neill is a revered playwright for a reason, and his plays have laid the foundations for American drama. Roundabout’s revival is just as worthwhile as the play, and its actors give one heck of a show. I do wish that like a Shakespearean tragedy, the revival’s creators could have taken a red pencil to the script and picked up the pace. Instead, we are left with one frustratingly long night.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night plays until June 26th. For more information, click here.

New Podcast on ‘American Psycho’ and ‘The Total Bent’

Sara and Mariaisabel wonder why American Psycho didn’t receive more acclaim, and discuss all the ways race, religion, and sexuality intersect in Stew’s new musical ‘The Total Bent.’

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