Villanova Theatre’s spotlight on addiction

Thomas Celona

Opening its 50th anniversary season, Villanova Theatre presents an intimate and compellingly executed production of Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, “Long Day’s Journey into Night.”

Directed by former Villanova professor Robert Hedley, the ensemble portrays the Tyrone family as they confront the demons of their past that none of them can ignore any longer.

It is fitting that Villanova Theatre selected this combination of play and director to launch this milestone season; Hedley directed the same play in October 1968, in what was the first play ever performed in the Vasey Theatre.

Likewise, the theme of repeating the past dominates O’Neill’s script. In a largely autobiographical manner, “Long Day’s Journey into Night” follows one pivotal day for the Tyrones as their errors catch up to them with irreparable consequences.

Mary (Villanova professor Joanna Rotté), just months out of a sanatorium, dangerously teeters on the edge of a relapse and another separation from reality, while her husband James (Dan Kerns) must face the mistakes he has made that have contributed to the problems of both his wife and sons.

Meanwhile, their younger son Edmund (graduate student Matt Silva) is diagnosed with consumption and his drinking catches up with him, and older brother Jamie (graduate student Luke Moyer) is forced to admit his jealousy of Edmund and how he willfully led Edmund down a path of corruption, solely to make his own life look less pathetic by comparison.

In the intimate setting of Vasey Theatre and with a cast of only five actors, the audience makes a true connection with the characters, learning more with each subtle pause or quiver of the lip – details that would be lost in a larger theatre.

In the first act, the ensemble builds great, palpable tension, veiling the nature of Mary’s affliction.

While the second half loses this high level of tension as all the cards are laid out on the table, the characters’ vulnerability and whiskey-induced honesty keeps the drama going.

Kerns, Moyer and Silva all give solid performances, with Moyer and Silva’s interaction in the second half, as they drunkenly confront the crumbling foundation of their relationship, standing out as a highlight.

However, Rotté’s performance is a challenge for the audience to decipher; it’s unclear whether she’s struggling to make it through her lines, or if she’s going through these motions to deliver a purposefully unsettling performance as her character painfully descends into the fog of the night.

As the day progresses, O’Neill’s script makes clear how inescapable the past is.

Try as they might, the characters cannot ignore their histories, and right before the audience’s eyes, they come to realize that they forever are what their pasts have made them. Mary expresses this plainly but astutely, saying, “The past is the present, isn’t it? It’s the future, too.”

Viewers be forewarned: The title does not lie; this play certainly is a long journey. Clocking in at 3 hours and 40 minutes, the performance is extremely lengthy, but while the second half seems to drag at points, the quality of the acting and the caliber of the script keep the performance compelling throughout.

“Long Day’s Journey into Night” will run through Sunday with 8 p.m. shows today through Saturday and a 2 p.m. matinee showing on Sunday.

Tickets are $7 for students, $10 for faculty and staff, $22 for seniors and $24 for adults.

The 50th anniversary season of Vasey Theatre will continue with “Le Dindon (An Absolute Turkey)” from Nov. 11-23, “Metamorphoses” from Feb. 3-15 and “Cabaret” from March 24-April 5 and April 14-19.