Long Day’s Journey into Night is the crowning achievement of Eugene O’Neill (1881-1953), widely considered one of the greatest American playwrights of the past century. This gut-wrenching play is derived so transparently from O’Neill’s own family history that he refused to let it be performed, or even published, until after his death.
O’Neill grew up amid a tumultuous family life, traveling incessantly as a result of his father’s stage-acting career. The playwright’s neurotic, unstable mother struggled with a lifelong morphine addiction, his underachieving older brother died of alcoholism, and the sickly O’Neill himself drank heavily. Nonetheless, he mined these experiences to create a remarkable run of plays throughout the 1920s. By 1930, he had won three Pulitzer Prizes and scored major successes with Anna Christie (1922), Desire Under the Elms (1924), and Strange Interlude (1928), among others.
After the deaths of his parents and older brother, O’Neill felt freer to include autobiographical elements in his works. This tendency culminated in Long Day’s Journey into Night (1941), which depicts the crises that tear apart the allegedly fictional Tyrone family over the course of a single day. The Tyrones’ hard-drinking, former-matinee-idol father; morphine addicted mother; and two sons – one a dissipated alcoholic, the other an ailing, sensitive writer – are so clearly based on O’Neill’s family that he required his publisher to promise not to release the play until twenty-five years after his death. Nonetheless, in 1956, just three years after O’Neill died, the widow sidestepped this arrangement by taking the play directly to Yale University Press, which published it that year.
Like much of his earlier work, Long Day’s Journey into Night confirmed O’Neill as the heir to Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906), August Strindberg (1849-1912), and other nineteenth-century European masters of realist drama. The play opened on Broadway to rave reviews in late 1956 and has since been revived four times.
1. The most recent Broadway production of Long Day’s Journey into Night, in 2003, starred Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Donnehy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Robert Sean Leonard.
2. The alcoholic son in Long Day’s Journey into Night, Jamie Tyrone, also appears as a major character in O’Neill’s final play, A Moon for the Misbegotten (1947).
3. O’Neill literally was born into the theater world. His mother gave birth to him in a hotel room on Broadway, near Times Square. Oddly, he also died in a hotel room in Boston after a long illness.
From The Intellectual Devotional – Modern Culture by David S. Kidder and Noah D. Oppenheim