What begins as an ordinary summer day at the Connecticut home of the Tyrone family quickly descends into a night in which long-buried secrets are exposed and cannot be ignored. Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning masterpiece Long Day’s Journey Into Night, currently running at the Everyman Theatre through Sunday, March 4th, will take audiences on an emotional rollercoaster of highs and lows. Baltimore OUTloud recently chatted with performers Danny Gavigan (paying Edmund Tyrone) and Katharine Ariyan (playing Cathleen) to discuss the emotional turmoil that emanates from the performance.

“Edmund, the youngest son of the Tyrone family, is loosely based on our playwright Eugene O’Neill,” notes Everyman resident company member Danny Gavigan. “[O’Neill] swapped names with his older brother Edmund, his mother’s second baby that passed away when he was only a few months old.” It has long been discussed that the plot of Long Day’s Journey Into Night was a semi-autobiographical work centered around the inner struggles within O’Neill’s family. “It was after Edmund’s death that [Ella O’Neill] then had Eugene. Eugene always felt he was the cause of his mother’s addiction to morphine.”

Gavigan added, “Like Eugene, Edmund is a lover of poetry and has a morbid sense of humor. He has recently returned home to the family’s summer cottage in Connecticut. For the last few years his character was living as a sea-fairing hand on a ship, but now he is penniless and broke. He comes back very sick and ill. He thinks it is a very bad summer cold, but what he thinks is malaria is in fact consumption – tuberculosis.”

“Cathleen – who I play – is referred to often as ‘the second girl,’” said performer Katharine Ariyan. “I’m considered an outsider to the family. She is the servant, but it’s a very small [cottage] so she can hear and see everything. I think the family is under the impression they are hiding more than they really are from the people who work for them. She’s from Ireland and she’s come here to work, live her life, and find a husband. She’s very aware. I believe, at least dramaturgically, that she acts as a way ‘in’ for the audience. An outsider who can comment on the things inside the house.”

For the performers, the Tyrone family in the play represents the real O’Neill family. Both Gavigan and Ariyan explained that to the whole country, and even internationally, Eugene O’Neill’s father was a famous stage actor. Therefore, there is a bit of celebrity that centered on this family during this time. Gavigan added, “O’Neill was deep into his 50s when he wrote this play, and he died shortly afterward. The public at large did not know about [Ella O’Neill’s] morphine addiction. Addiction aside, O’Neill was at a point in his life that all he could do was let go of these ghosts that were long dead and still haunting him.”

Ariyan added, “I think that because this play was written at the end of O’Neill’s life, that’s why the story was able to happen. He looked back on the way he had been and his family was in the past. When he wrote this play, his parents and brother had passed already. He told his wife that he felt he had to write it. The most brilliant part of this play is that everyone is ugly and, yet, everyone is beautiful in his or her own way. Meaning that you see the most awful, cruel parts of these people and the way they treat each other but, regardless of that, the love is not going anywhere. You see these characters say the most terrible things to each other and then express so much love, feeling, and remorse. That’s why this play will stand the test of time, because we will always do that in families.”

Long Day’s Journey Into Night was originally performed in 1956. At that time, it was taboo to focus on issues such as substance abuse and mental illness. The performers were cognizant that some of those issues still carry the same stigma in society today. “One of the differences is that a lot of people close to the O’Neill family denied there was evidence of substance abuse. People related to the family were appalled when it came out,” says Gavigan.

He adds, “What makes it so much more important today is that people see alcoholism now as a disease and that people are suffering. With the perspective of modern mental health institutions, and with treatment, people are finding that they have people who are suffering from this in their families. Even if they do not have this in their families, they know someone who is suffering from alcoholism. Even the scale of opioid abuse that we are seeing today, for example. It’s more important now than ever to see the effect it has on a family emotionally and a family who is intellectually able to find depth to these struggles in a poetic way. Eugene O’Neill was one of the first American poets to be able to do that.” t

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Frankie Kujawa
Frankie Kujawa
Since 2011, arts writer Frankie Kujawa has covered a wide scope of entertainment stories and celebrity interviews. From the late Carrie Fisher and LGBTQ icon George Takei to comedians Lily Tomlin and Kathy Griffin to performer Idina Menzel, Kujawa’s candid interview ability brings readers past the byline and into the heart of the story. His unbiased previews of Baltimore-Washington’s theatre scene have allowed readers an inside glimpse of today’s most popular local and national performances. A Baltimore-native, Kujawa is proud to call Charm City his home.