Robert Falls directs what he has called his "dream cast": Brian Dennehy as the miserly master actor, James Tyrone; Vanessa Redgrave as his desperately lonely, morphine addict wife, Mary; Philip Seymour Hoffman as the debauched, cynical eldest son, James Tyrone, Jr. (Jamie); and Robert Sean Leonard as the tubercular poetical younger son, Edmund. Irish-born actress Fiana Toibin completes the cast of the Tyrone's Irish maid.
The drama unfolds in James, Sr.'s summer cottage, rendered in claustrophobically dark wood and imprisoning high walls by Santo Loquasto, and lit in dim, foreboding seaside tones by Brian MacDevitt. Loquasto also provides the earth-tone costumes. Falls' production—the final entry in the 2002-03 Broadway season—clocks in at just over four hours.
Brian Dennehy has previously played the lead in O'Neill's A Touch of the Poet and The Iceman Cometh, both directed by Falls. The director also guided him in Galileo and, of course, Death of a Salesman, the 1999 Broadway revival that won both men Tony Awards.
Redgrave is, along with Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, one of the leading actresses of London theatre. She last acted on Broadway in Tennessee Williams' Orpheus Descending in a grand performance that divided critics. Since then, she has appeared Off-Broadway in Vita and Virginia, with Eileen Atkins, and Antony and Cleopatra at the Public Theater.
Leonard won the Tony Award last year for The Invention of Love, after many years of applauded Broadway and Off-Broadway turns. Earlier this season, he acted in Fifth of July at the Signature Theatre Company. Hoffman appeared in True West on Broadway and in The Public Theater's summer staging of The Seagull, with Meryl Streep. Falls helmed a 2002 staging of the play at The Goodman Theatre in Chicago, with Dennehy, who is the only holdover from that mounting. Producer David Richenthal, Max Cooper, Anthony and Charlene Marshall, Eric Falkenstein, Kara Medoff and Darren Bagert are behind the new Broadway production, inspired by the Goodman staging. Falls, Dennehy and Richenthal first hatched the idea of tackling Journey four years ago.
The rich family drama by O'Neill, inspired by events and tensions in his own family, is set in 1912, in the New England summer home of a retired penny-pinching actor who, born into poverty, gave up his artistic ideals to endlessly tour in a commercial melodrama. His poet son Edmund is tubercular and soon to be sent to a sanitorium, and his wife Mary, abandoned to years of loneliness as her husband toured, is addicted to morphine. Both ailments are due to ineffective treatments from the local quack doctor, used by the father because he's so affordable. Jamie, meanwhile, has long since been lost to a self-destructive life of bars and brothels. On a long summer day—starting at 8:30 in the morning and lasting well past midnight—the family members scratch and probe their pasts and their choices, searching each other's perceived crimes for the source of their ongoing misery and loss of faith.
O'Neill demanded the play not be performed until 25 years after his death (he died in 1953), but his widow agreed to an American premiere in 1956, directed by Jose Quintero. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The first New York staging starred Jason Robards Jr. as Jamie; he would later play the aged Jamie in the related O'Neill play, A Moon for the Misbegotten. The current mounting is the fourth to see Broadway. Many consider the play the finest drama ever written by an American playwright.
Talking of Dennehy's performance in the play, Falls told Playbill On-Line, "James Tyrone is the least educated and in many ways least sophisticated of those four family members. In a way, he is the peasant. He's a sort of simple, unpretentious, uncomplicated man. Certainly, he's a child of poverty. Like most children of poverty, he's become a miser. He's very much a man of his times, which is a 19th century Irishman. The one thing about Brian, is you can imagine him as a sort of barnstorming actor of the 1880s, a sort of barrel-chested Irish guy like the Booths or O'Neills. Someone once said to me that Brian Dennehy doesn't seem like much of a matinee idol [as the character of James Tyrone, based on O'Neill's actor father, James O'Neill, is]. Matinee idols weren't always Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. Brian has always had a huge swooning contingent of ladies in the audience. Brian brings all of that to the stage."
The top ticket price will be $100, owing, Richenthal told The Daily News, to a long, six-week rehearsal period, overtime expenses incurred by the three-and-one-half hour running time and a seven show week (one less than usual).