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Robards's long journey with O'Neill. Back with Dewhurst in tale of tortured Tyrones

Long Day's Journey Into Night Revival of play by Eugene O'Neill. Directed by Jos'e Quintero. Starring Jason Robards, Colleen Dewhurst. The arrival of Eugene O'Neill's haunted Tyrones at the Neil Simon Theatre marks a double occasion: a celebration of the O'Neill centenary and a major event in the First New York International Festival of the Arts.

Not least important to Broadway playgoers, the Yale Repertory Theatre revival staged by Jos'e Quintero is probably the definitive production of this overwhelming autobiographical masterpiece.

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In the second scene of the unsparing three-hours-plus replay of a tortured family history, Mary Tyrone (Colleen Dewhurst) expresses one of its underlying themes. ``None of us can help the things life has done to us,'' she says. ``They're done before you realize it, and once they're done they make you do other things until at last everything comes between you and what you'd like to be, and you've lost your true self forever.''

The truism is nowhere better personified than in the experiences of Mary and her husband, James Tyrone (Jason Robards), the once matinee idol who traded his artistic potential for popular success and money.

Mary, the Roman Catholic schoolgirl who met and married the glamorous star, endured years of traveling and nights in cheap hotels only to become a drug addict when a quack doctor prescribed morphine after she had experienced a difficult childbirth.

O'Neill assembles the Tyrones on a day in August 1912, in their shabby-genteel summer home on Long Island Sound. As the fog thickens outside, the Tyrones thrash through a series of bruising and often boozy encounters in a bitter ordeal of truth and consequences.

Yet ``Long Day's Journey Into Night'' is also a deeply forgiving play - not only on the author's part but on the part of the Tyrones to one another. Considering its cruel harshness, it is the affection expressed that redeems the harrowing events of the long day's journey.

While the constant altercations give the work its dramatic impact and also much of its comic relief, it is through the exploration of painful memories that O'Neill plumbs the things that life has done to the Tyrones and that they have done to themselves. With these confessions comes the understanding that leads to forgiveness.

Moment of greatness

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The memories and reflections are embodied vividly in the Tyrone personae. As played by Mr. Robards, Tyrone himself is not so much the onetime thespian as he is the present landowner, the rugged penny-penching individualist, the proud self-made man who scorns his son's radicalism and morbid literary tastes. Only in the night of the long day's journey does he come to terms with his great artistic mistake. Mr. Robards makes this outpouring a moment of unforgettable greatness.

As Mary Tyrone, Miss Dewhurst moves - almost glides - through the journey like the gray-clad ghost she comes to resemble.

Statuesque and handsome, this Mary Tyrone nevertheless remains at heart the Midwestern provincial girl swept off her feet by a romance that changed her life irrevocably. Miss Dewhurst's Mary touchingly conveys the bewilderment of a woman who has lost her ``true self.''

Campbell Scott and Jamey Sheridan complete the dark family portrait as the two sons: James the elder and Edmund the younger.

Much self-searching

Here again, O'Neill has supplied the actors and audience with the prolonged self-searching speeches that explain and enlighten. With the actor's eloquence, Mr. Scott enriches the ``stammering'' reminiscence which he describes as ``the native eloquence of us fog people.'' Mr. Sheridan faces the more difficult task of delivering the dissolute James's fiercely ambivalent speech of brother love-hate, in the course of which he caps a very remarkable performance.

Mr. Quintero's precisely sensitive direction extends to the person of Cathleen, the ``second girl'' of the domestic staff, whose good-natured ways suit the demands of the casual household.

``Long Day's Journey'' has been scenically designed with an eye for atmospheric shabbiness by Ben Edwards, with costumes by Jane Greenwood. The subdued lighting was created by Jennifer Tipton.

O'Neill's comedy

Next week, ``Long Day's Journey'' will be joined in repertory by ``Ah, Wilderness!,'' O'Neill's only comedy.

John Beaufort covers New York theater for the Monitor.

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