Assign students parts for the play. Try to choose actors who are physical, uninhibited and with strong, clear and resonant voices. Since sporadic attendance is sometimes a problem, I would suggest doubling up on some of the parts. Have the students read carefully the stage directions by O’Neill, visualizing the setting interpreting the dialogue and following the description with their imaginations. Have the students practice reading their parts independently with different pacing and tone; then have them stage it for the class audience with props, costumes, sound effects, blocking and expression. Redo scenes with different students, different ways. Take student suggestions for casting. Find different ways to read and play the significant scenes; move characters around differently. The focus of what is significant in a scene changes as the movement of the characters changes. This serves to underline character and theme. The follow-up discussion might include the following questions and students should write their own answers in their journals if time allows during class or at night for homework:
Analyze, as a director would, the first scene and the two characters, Mary and Tyrone, as they enter and converse. What should be the intonation and emphasis in their lines? What gestures and facial expressions should go with them? How should Mary and Tyrone move from one place to another on the stage? Show the students how changes in emphasis and voice tone can give different nuances of meaning. How would you have Jamie and Edmund speak their lines? What words would you have them emphasize, what punctuation, what tone of voice, where to pause, what pace of speaking, where and when to move and why? What kind of clothes would you have them wear and why? If the characters are not speaking, what are they doing? Is the fog used effectively in the first act? Explain. What is revealed about the different relationships in the family by the end of Act One? Do any of the family members show any real understanding of each other in the first act? What is troubling the family members which they are afraid to discuss? How does the atmosphere change from the beginning of the act to the end of it? What is the relationship between Jamie and Edmund? Why is Mary disturbed about her present life? As the scene closes, she sits with her fingers drumming on the chair arm “driven by an insistent life of their own, without her consent.” (L 49) What is O’Neill’s meaning in his stage directions at the end of Act One?
Act Two, Scene One
Now we’ll proceed to Act Two, Scene One. As the scene opens, it is quarter to one on the same day. No sunlight comes into the room now as it did in the first act. The day is still fine, but sultry, with faint haziness. (L 51) Preliminary discussion after the students have read Act Two about the present situation should take place before the acting. What is the attitude of Cathleen, Edmund, Jamie, Mary and Tyrone at the beginning of the act? How do their attitudes change? Cathleen provides comic relief in this scene to relieve the tension of the three men worrying about Mary’s drug taking and Edmund’s illness. Moreover, in Cathleen’s chat with Edmund, the audience understands her ironical comments. Catherine says that neither Edmund nor Jamie is as good looking as their father; that Jamie wouldn’t miss the time to stop work if he had a watch; and that Mary is lying down in the spare room. Then Edmund sneaks a drink before Jamie enters and Jamie has one with him. What does this scene show about the two boys and their father? Mary enters from the front parlor looking more detached, withdrawn, but less nervous. In a detached, impersonal tone, she shows that she is under the influence of morphine. Edmund and Jamie are suspicious but “act out their parts.” She remarks, “None of us can help the things that life has done to us. They’re done before you realize it, and once they’re done they make you do other things until at last everything comes between you and what you’d like to be, and you’ve lost your true self forever.” (L 61) At this time, it would be stimulating to ask the students if they agree or disagree with what Mary is saying and why. Also, ask: How do you react to Mary? Does she evoke sympathy or irritation from you? Do you know anyone like Mary? What do you think will happen to her? Do you think her problems are similar to those of other women her age during this time? Do you think Mary is alienated from her family and society?
In staging, encourage the actors to recreate the dismal mood and atmosphere of this scene. Is there a mood of suspicion in the atmosphere about Mary’s drug taking? Have the students do a related improvisational exercise about suspicion in which the students imagine a situation where several pupils have vandalized a teacher’s car. The principal has gathered all the students together in the art room to try to gain information about the suspects. Each pupil should find something he might be doing before the principal enters. They can pantomime all the possibilities of working on art projects. As the students act, other conditions can be added. Talk has spread that some pupils know that several others are guilty of vandalizing the car. Other pertinent conditions can be added that increase the suspicion. Improvisation can be a very effective tool to help students relate to the characters’ situation and to enter into their world and understand them and thus, themselves better.
Give out the playbooks and open to Act Two. Discuss with the students: What time of day does the scene take place? Who is on stage and who enters? Give out the parts to two sets of actors. Take the playbooks away from the actors on the stage and give them to “voice over” readers who will speak the parts from their front-row seats. The actors on stage will pantomime the scenes as the readers in the front-row speak the lines. The actors on stage should move and act as if the dialogues were coming from their bodies, using movements and feelings that are spontaneous without planning. Discuss what happened in the scene. Were the actions of the characters clear? Were the facial expressions effective for the dialogue?
What kind of emotion did the scene evoke? How could lights affect the scene? Who is most important in the scenes? Should that person be highlighted? Give the following assignment now: In your journal, discuss the following questions which reflect on your own personal identity: Do you ever feel lonely or depressed? Do you know why? Have you ever not faced reality? Do you have a person that you can tell your innermost thoughts to? What kind of a person could you do that with? Do you love one person more than others? Do you like your parents? What qualities do they have? What do you want to do with your life? Do you think you accept reality?
In studying the second scene of
Long Day’s Journey,
I hope that all students will have some kind of performing, directing and audience experience. Getting and keeping the students involved and choosing actors with strong, clear voices are important. I will ask the students to help cast for this scene after the students have auditioned. Students who are chosen for the roles must learn their dialogue by a certain deadline. Experienced drama students who have attended E.C.A. will be the student directors. There is some change in character and development of situation in this scene. The four members of the Tyrone family are returning from lunch to the living room. O’Neill’s thorough stage directions reveal the changes of the characters in their thoughts, attitudes and reactions. Tyrone, disquieted, weary and resigned-looking, follows Mary who is aloof, indifferent to what she is saying and “terribly nervous.” Jamie, looking cynical and defensive, fills a pipe from a jar while Edmund, appearing heartsick and weak, “sits in a chair . . . , turned half away from his mother so he does not have to watch her.” (L 71)
Edmund has been ill with a continuous cough and the family’s self-delusion changes with Doctor Hardy’s diagnosis of tuberculosis. As the day continues, Mary will crack under the strain and as Jamie, Edmund and Tyrone fear, she will relapse into her morphine addiction, slipping into a “ghost-filled” world of the past. At this time the class can discuss the following: The three Tyrones all appear to be almost alcoholics or already there, yet they are all extremely fearful that Mary will succumb to her addiction. Why don’t they see any harm in their own drinking? Does society condemn drug addiction more than alcoholism? If so, why do you think so? How do Mary, Tyrone, Jamie and Edmund change during this scene? How is Mary actually feeling? What tells you? What is the state of Mary and Tyrone’s relationship during this scene? How can it be dramatized? The students can work on this assignment in groups and present their interpretation to the class before staging the scene. They can choose one of the soliloquies by Mary in which she rambles on about the past, or the one before she goes upstairs, or the one where Tyrone, Jamie and Edmund try to understand why she has relapsed into her morphine addiction again. The students can choose a secretary to write down their director’s notes and try to give the actors very specific instructions on how to deliver their dialogue—what intonation, what word or words to emphasize in each line, what interruptions or changes in rhythm, what overall tone and changes in tone, what gestures and facial expressions to use; and other characters’ movements. Each group will present their scene to the rest of the class after developing it fully. The director will give suggestions for improvement. The class will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the scenes. Students could videotape their scenes; then they could watch them and write suggestions for improvement.
It is about six-thirty in the evening when fog rolls in thick against the window. The foghorn is moaning along with a warning chorus of ships’ bells. Cathleen is absent-mindedly holding an empty whiskey glass in her hand while Mary is chatting on and neither person is listening to each other as often happens in the play. One feels that the nature of O’Neill’s dialogue is that the characters, instead of hearing each other out, continually talk across each other, talking as much to themselves as to the others—probably because of their fears, guilt and resentments. They seem to want to purge themselves of hostility and resentment. Examining O’Neill’s dialogue carefully may enlighten the students about his technique and show what he does so effectively. Questions which will stimulate students to think critically are: How does the use of his dialogue increase the element of conflict? How does it help to individualize the characters and reveal meaning?
An effective dramatic scene that will prove illuminating to stage is at the beginning of Act Three where Cathleen, the hired girl leaves Mary to help Bridget in the kitchen while Mary sits alone and prays the Hail Mary. “Her hands jerk and the fingers automatically play for a moment on the air . . . she suddenly loses all the girlish quality and is an aging, cynically sad, embittered woman.” (L 107) She starts to go upstairs probably to take morphine when she hears Edmund and Tyrone coming in. She is resentful at first that her privacy is being invaded, but then her manner changes and she becomes relieved. “Oh, I’m so glad they’ve come! I’ve been so horribly lonely.” (L 108) Edmund and Tyrone are aware that she has succumbed to her “curse” again and has drifted into the world of unreality. With Mary affected by morphine and Edmund and Tyrone fueled by alcohol, the masks and decorum are torn away as Edmund says: “. . . they’re regurgitating old grievances” they’ve all heard “a million times” before. Every line that the characters speak to each other “seems cancelled out by the line he speaks right after, until a scene which seems straightforward enough reveals the whole history of a relationship. A line that may take only a second to say has twenty years of experience behind it.”
It would be helpful to involve some students in getting outfits and props for the above scene. Make the scene physical as well as verbal. Encourage the class to direct by making suggestions to the actors on how to speak their lines, what expressions to use and how and where to move. Allow the students to interrupt each time they feel a mood change because O’Neill often involves several moods at once. Have the students evaluate the elements in the staging that seem to work or not work and explain why or why not. They may want to focus on a scene or character or on the relationship between Mary and Edmund, Mary and Tyrone, or Edmund and Tyrone.
For writing in their journals, I suggest: How does one find the strength from within to overcome psychological pain and adversity? Does Edmund show any real understanding of his mother’s and father’s plight? Do you know people who live in illusory worlds? Do all of us sometimes lose ourselves in fantasies? Is there a difference between people who daydream occasionally and people whose lives are led by illusion? Is it possible at this stage for Mary to be cured of her addiction? Alcohol and drugs are sometimes resorted to when one doesn’t face reality or cannot cope with an intolerable life. Have you known someone in a similar situation as Mary’s? Do you accept the realities of your life? Have there been adversities and losses in your life that you found difficult to cope with? Explain. What are the masks that the four Tyrones wear? What insights does Scene Three show about Mary, Tyrone and Edmund? What do you think will happen to them?
As the curtain rises it is about midnight. Tyrone is sitting at the table wearing his prince-nez and playing solitaire. The whiskey bottle is “three-quarters empty,” but there is another near by. The fog is denser than before as the fog horn and ships’ bells are heard “from the harbor.” Edmund returns home drunk, knowing that he must go to a sanatorium for his tuberculosis. The darkness of the scene and the dense fog suggest a pervading gloom. The foghorn as Mary said earlier is a warning signal of danger as the ships’ bells ambiguously represent a means of escape. In drinking, Tyrone is trying to escape the realities of his situation as he is “possessed of hopeless resignation.” The stage movements of turning the bulbs in the chandelier off and on adds comic relief and decreases the tension.
Edmund and Tyrone seem to be seeking sympathy and a desire to escape. They drink together and Tyrone confides in him telling of the play he bought and how he became an acting failure with it. Then he tells about his hardscrabble childhood, his family’s poverty and his frustrated aspirations when Edmund in a moment of transcendence “looks at him for the first time with an understanding sympathy”: I’m glad you told me this, Papa. I know you a lot better now.” (L 151) Edmund and Tyrone seem to have moved from antagonism to an understanding of each other. Next, Jamie returns after midnight, drunk from Mamie Burn’s and Fat Violet’s and expresses his ambivalent feelings about Edmund: “. . . I love you more than I hate you . . . I run the risk you’ll hate me—and you’re all I’ve got left . . . .” (L 166) Mary remains upstairs until the last scene of the play which increases the suspense and the final power of her presence. Her appearance is anticipated by the three men as they listen to her above them and comment about her. (E 99) Emphasize the stage directions for Mary’s entrance. Light flashes on at the back part of the setting and all five bulbs come on; then Mary begins to play a Chopin waltz. (L 169, 170) Finally, Mary appears, dressed from the past, carrying her wedding gown. Students can discuss: How should Mary move on the stage? What should Tyrone do? Should he take the wedding gown from Mary and hold it carefully for a while? Why would this be effective dramatically? Where should Edmund and Jamie be at this time? Who or what grouping should the light be focused on? How should Mary speak her soliloquy? After that, she reminisces about her young, innocent life in the convent and staring dreamily before her as a look of uneasiness comes over her face as in a sad dream. She talks out loud to herself pathetically concluding: “Then in the spring something happened to me. Yes, I remember. I fell in love with James and was so happy for a time.” (L 176)
An easy exercise which will help students to understand and portray the characters in
Long Day’s Journey
more thoroughly is Three Stages. Three people on the stage area will play the same character at a different stage of his life. For example, the character might be Mary before she meets Tyrone; one character, Mary while she is dating him, and another character, Mary when she is first married to Tyrone. First, we would see Mary before meeting Tyrone. The other two student actors could be Mary’s parents. All characters will interact to show what Mary’s life is like at this time. Perhaps they could show her convent life or Tyrone’s hardworking childhood. Next we would see Mary after she has met Tyrone, with the two other student actors in the scene showing another aspect of Mary’s character. Finally, we see Mary with Tyrone when they are first married. Thus the audience could more fully understand the change and development that take place in the different stages of a person’s life. Discuss the results of all scenes to help those students not acting to participate by carefully listening and watching and then analyzing and critiquing. As students act out the scenes, urge them to imagine the settings, to understand and express the dialogue and to interpret the stage directions.
I hope that I will take my students on an unusual journey into the depths of human nature and help them to emerge from it with some clearer and deeper insights into the complexities of life.