O'Neill -- with accent on pace, humor. Lemmon in central role of theatrical masterpiece

Long Day's Journey into Night Play by Eugene O'Neill. Directed by Jonathan Miller. Starring Jack Lemmon. Eugene O'Neill dedicated ``Long Day's Journey into Night'' to his wife, Carlotta, on the occasion of their 12th wedding anniversary. In his 1941 dedication, O'Neill paid tribute to her ``love and tenderness which gave me the faith in love that enabled me to face my dead at last and write this play -- write it with deep pity and understanding and forgiveness for all the four haunted Tyrones.''

Pity, understanding, and forgiveness must therefore imbue any production of what the dramatist called ``this play of old sorrow, written in tears and blood.'' In that sense, the revival at the Broadhurst Theatre starring Jack Lemmon honors the author's intention. Having compiled an exhaustive report of battle casualties, O'Neill achieves catharsis with a glimpse of what might have been. It comes as Mary Tyrone gropes through her drug-clouded memory to recollect what occurred in her senior year of high school, just after she had decided to become a nun. ``Then in the spring something happened to me,'' Mary tells her hushed family. ``Yes, I remember. I fell in love with James Tyrone and was happy for a time.''

In this glimpse of a ``sad dream,'' Mary -- dressed in the wedding gown she has discovered in the attic -- touches on the lost happiness at the heart of so much of the play. Bethel Leslie delivers the line with a touching quietude that combines wonder over a fleeting joy with sorrow for everything that followed.

O'Neill condensed it all into an acutely autobiographical four-act masterpiece. The author's distillation has been further contracted in the two-part version staged by England's Jonathan Miller [interviewed at right]. A good deal has been written about the overlapping of speeches and the tempo by which Mr. Miller has cut as much as 30 minutes from the script's playing time. The device achieves an added momentum without perceptibly diminishing the impact of the confrontations -- the accusations, animosities, recriminations, and regrets -- that motivate the Tyrones.

With scrupulous honesty, O'Neill explores and explains without condoning. Probing the origins of their behavior -- whether Mary's drug addiction, Tyrone's stinginess, or James Jr.'s self-loathing dissipation and sibling jealousy -- the playwright seeks to understand without necessarily absolving.

Heading the tormented household is silver-thatched James Tyrone himself. According to O'Neill, Tyrone is 65 ``but looks 10 years younger.'' Instead, Mr. Lemmon's Tyrone looks, if anything, 10 years older. Continuing O'Neill's description, the actor in Tyrone ``shows in all his unconscious habits of speech, movement and gesture.'' Mr. Lemmon's Tyrone seems more like a 19th-century Irish-American ex-politico than a once glamourous matinee idol. But he rises magnificently to the occasion with an impassioned delivery of Tyrone's embittered confession of how he ruined his career by sacrificing artistic achievement for popular success.

In its depiction of a family simultaneously driven together and torn apart, the revival achieves a needed homogeneity. Miss Leslie's Mary Tyrone is a compassionate portrait of an ordinary woman whose years of one-night stands and cheap hotels served to intensify her feeling of loneliness and of alienation from Tyrone's world. To this disaffection was added the quack medical treatment that led her to morphine addiction. Kevin Spacey gives a shattering portrait of James Jr., the alcoholic. Peter Gallagher ranges from rebelliousness to awakening compassion as the family's fledgling writer (O'Neill himself), whose threatening illness hangs like a shadow over the long day's passage. Jodie Lynne McClintock does nicely as the Tyrones's good-hearted Irish maid. The cast as a whole relishes the play's more than occasional humor -- harsh and biting though it usually is.

A foghorn sounds a periodic haunted note just beyond the Tyrones' Connecticut summer home, a suggestively bleak domicile designed by Tony Straiges. Richard Nelson's gloomy lighting takes due account of James Tyrone's aversion to spending money on electricity. Willa Kim designed the period costumes.

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