Peter Michael Goetz and Helen Carey.
Photo by Michael Brosilow
Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night is a family affair. Four of the five characters are part of the Tyrone family, a thinly fictionalized version of O'Neill's own clan.
Good working relationships among the actors in the company can help to bring this stage family to life. Peter Michael Goetz and Helen Carey certainly have practice at performing as husband and wife. The actors have been cast as a couple numerous times over the years, including a production last year of O'Neill's play.
"It is invaluable," Carey says. "It's like having an extra week of rehearsal. We know and trust each other. It's a wonderful psychological safety net."
"In the play, we've been married 35 years. It's been more than 35 yeas ago when we first worked together here," Goetz adds. "We both knew each other as youngsters, and have seen the aging between us."
Goetz is James, the family's boozy patriarch, while Helen is Mary, the drug-addicted matriarch. John Catron and John Skelley plays sons Jamie and Edmund, while Laoisa Sexton is Cathleen, the household's maid.
Issues of addiction and dysfunction run through the work. "Audiences are surprised at how much they engage with this family. It has a certain reputation," Carey says. "It's a crisp, clear definition of a group of people who are related and locked into each other. They interact horribly at times, and sometimes wonderfully. There are echoes of it in every family."
The half a dozen preview performances give director Joe Dowling and the company a chance to see what is and isn't working.
"Joe works feverously until curtain time. We change and re-block, cut, put things back in we cut, and just experiment," Goetz says.
One thing that has been surprising is the number of laughs in the play. Some of those come out of occasional bits of tension-relieving humor. Others are coming in places the actors don't want them, and they are working to eliminate those moments during the previews.
"The way he writes, there are moments and pools of non-tension where the audience needs to have a release, a laugh, and a breather. There are other times that for the plot, movement, and tension to not let people off the hook emotionally. That's when you try to find ways of controlling them," Carey says.
"One thing Joe has been rugged with me is that he wants me to be harsher," Goetz says, noting that his own parenting (with two sons) was more understanding than the tyrant at the center of O'Neill's play.
Carey sees her character as someone who "was not really equipped outside the fact she loved this man from the moment she met him. She had no coping skills for the life she would enter."
Toss in a painkiller addiction after a difficult time giving birth and you have the character who haunts the action from beginning to end.
"One of the earmarks of a really great play is that you know that a train wreck is going to happen right from the start, but you want to find out how it ended up that way. It's the journey, not the destination, that is a great play," Goetz says.
Long Day's Journey Into Night
The Guthrie Theater
818 S. Second St., Minneapolis.
Through February 23
For information and tickets, call 612.377.2224 or visit online