In a spare, modern set (that could be either a dentist’s waiting room, or, as planned, a cheerless and generic holiday home), the past and present dramas of the Tyrone family play out over one long night. Mother Mary (Robyn Nevin) is addicted to morphine and the respite it gives her from her memories and loneliness. Father James (William Hurt) is a burly pennypincher, a handsome actor past his prime. Sons Jamie (Todd Van Voris) and Edmund (Luke Mullins) are both alcoholics, caught half-way between the new world of America (whores, barrooms, aimless joblessness) and the old one of their parent’s Irish homeland (frugality and family). Directed by Andrew Upton, this is a subtly coiled production that never really springs into action, but rather unfurls into a gentle dénouement. Standout performances by Nevin and Hurt give it an authentic twang; particularly as Nevin becomes loose and lachrymal, Hurt waxes lyrical about his lost dreams and aspirations. Viewed by many as playwright Eugene O’Neill’s magnum opus, this hefty slice of autobiographical show-all sits comfortably alongside Tennessee William’s gritty breakdown dramas. It’s a style of American realism that while fresh and uncomfortable in 1956 still rings true today, albeit with a little more cosy familiarity.
Until Aug 1, Sydney Theatre Company, Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay, $40-90, 9250 1777, sydneytheatre.com.au