HOUSTON -- Michael Wilson has recently been named artistic director of Hartford Stage Company. But not so long ago he had another seminal experience in Connecticut, this time in New London: a visit to Eugene O'Neill's family home to help prepare him to direct O'Neill's masterpiece, Long Day's Journey into Night, at the Alley Theatre in Houston Feb. 25 - Mar. 29.
"When you're dealing with a family like this the sinews of the characters, it's almost as if they've been built together," Wilson recalled as he readied the revival, in which the morphine-addicted Mary Tyrone is played by Ellen Burstyn, who won a Tony Award for Same Time, Next Year and an Academy Award for Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. "They're interconnected and bound and clinging to one another, identifying themselves through one another."
Long Day's Journey into Night was completed in March 1941. Because it was largely autobiographical, O'Neill stipulated that it shouldn't be produced until at least 25 years after his death. His widow, however, allowed the Swedish Royal Dramatic Theatre to premiere it in 1956, three years after he died. A slow descent into darkness, the play depicts O'Neill's tortured family in 1912, when the playwright-to-be was a young man: James Tyrone, the patriarch, a gifted, handsome actor whose love of money turned him second-rate; Mary, the mother, who battles psychic demons and other addictions; Jamie, the "worthless" older child, a bitter, alcoholic ne'er-do-well; and Edmund, the consumptive stand-in for O'Neill, who watches all, including his own fears of spiritual and literal decay.
A respected developer of new works as well as mindful interpreter of American classics, Wilson has been associated with the Alley for eight seasons; he will continue to be, in some reduced capacity, as new position at Hartford Stage allows. Long Day's Journey into Night is being mounted on the Alley's Neuhaus Arena Stage, its smaller space. To Wilson, the intimate surroundings parallel the intimate proceedings.
Long Day's Journey into Night runs at the Alley Theatre in Houston Feb. 25 - Mar. 29. For tickets, $36-$40, call (713) 228-84211 -- By Peter Szatmary