How far should we go in an effort to understand someone else's pain?  Although the Catholic Church strongly discourages the practice, in the Philippines there are people who even experience some aspects of crucifixion on Good Friday. I think we can all agree that's going too far.

Part of the raison d'être of the arts is to show us worlds outside of our own, to help us enter into other people's experiences. Eugene O'Neill's semi-autobiographical drama Long Day's Journey into Night provides the audience with an intimate and painful glimpse into the lives of a highly dysfunctional family of New London, Connecticut in the early 20th century. Why someone would want to enter into that experience is beyond me, but apparently the American literary world has more in common with the Philippines than I thought.

Recently we had the opportunity to attend the Mad Cow Theatre's production of O'Neill's masterpiece. I have to acknowledge its masterpiece status: it's considered O'Neill's best work and won both a Pulitzer Prize for drama and a Tony Award for best play. Any English teacher would assure me of its literary significance. And the local newspaper critic loved this performance. Porter and the friends who were with us thought it was great, too. I realize I stand alone here, but I'm still struggling to find something redeeming about the play.

Oh, the evening was great!  A delicious lasagne dinner, good company, good conversation. Being with friends even made the 45-minute wait to get out of the parking garage almost pleasant. But the show?  Not so much.

As I've said many times in the past, as far as I'm concerned a good book (movie, play) is one that inspires me to be a better person. Strike one against O'Neill's magnum opus. Mostly what it inspired me to do was to run screaming from the room, though that was too impolite to be possible.

I have nothing against the actors, who as far as I could tell did a fine job. Mad Cow actors usually do. But the play was a Presbyterian sermon on steroids. You know what I mean:  A Presbyterian sermon usually makes a good point, but takes three times as long as necessary to say it. Long Day's Journey into Night is a four hour play, with two intermissions, and it says the same things over and over and over and.... The first hour was more than enough. Strike two.

I realize I'm more sensitive to some things than most people, from shirt tags and wrinkles in my socks to the smell of mildew to suspense and horror in movies. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest made me want to vomit and it took months before I managed to suppress the memory of some scenes. I've learned that there are some (many) productions I'm just better off not viewing. Long Day's Journey into Night turns out to be one of them. Fortunately, the horror is verbal, not visual, so I'm not having to repress images. I've also gotten better, since the Cuckoo's Nest days, at protecting myself during the event. When the onslaught of anger, black thoughts, verbal abuse, and insane repetition became too much to handle, I simply blanked it out as much as possible: I closed my eyes, focused my thoughts on something else, and sometimes even fell into the oblivion of sleep. Those episodes were short, but necessary. How can I explain why?  The anger and hurtful words were like a physical assault. If you've ever experienced Restless Legs Syndrome, imagine that same feeling over your entire body. As I said, running from the room screaming was not an option, so I took the next best course of action. :)  It was the third and final strike.

Believe it or not, I'm glad I attended the show, but for some of my readers I highly recommend that if you want to experience this apparently important literary work, you do not attend a live performance, but either read the play or see a film version, where you can stop at any point and take time to process what you've seen—or abandon the effort altogether. You know who you are.

One of our daughters, being an avid and quick reader, would finish her assigned high school English books well ahead of the progress of the class, so that by the time the exam was given, several weeks had passed. Usually she would take some time to skim the book again before the test, to freshen the events in her mind. When the assignment was Lord of the Flies, however, she stated fiercely, "Mom, I will fail the exam before I will open that horrible book again."

She, at least, will understand. (And she aced the test anyway.)

When I complained that Long Day's Journey into Night was unrealistic, more than one person in our party assured me that it resonated well with their own experiences, making me all the more grateful that I grew up in a family where people did not scream, swear, and demean one another. I'm sure it's important that I know of this pain that hides in other people's lives, but this experience was a little too Filipino-Good-Friday for me.

It's not that I want my stories to be all sweetness and light, without complexity or ambiguity. Far from it. But they must always have hope.

Art without hope is failure.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 1, 2016 at 7:50 am | Edit
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Thank you for the warning!

Posted by joyful on Tuesday, April 05, 2016 at 12:44 pm
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