EXCERPTS FROM THE ARTICLE
Below are excerpts from the February 12, 2018 JMORE interview with Resident Company Member Deborah Hazlett and Long Day's Journey into Night scenic designer Daniel Ettinger.
When Deborah Hazlett learned that Monte Cristo Cottage, the summer home of playwright Eugene O’Neill in New London, Conn., had been restored and opened to the public, she knew she had to pay a visit.
After all, Hazlett — who this year celebrates her 20th anniversary as a member of Everyman Theatre’s resident company — was preparing to play Mary Tyrone, a character based on O’Neill’s own mother Mary Ellen Quinlan O’Neill, in the 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”
The show, which runs through March 4 at Everyman Theatre, takes place over the course of a single day in August 1912. It is set entirely in the cottage, which was named for the playwright’s father, James O’Neill, an actor best known for his role as Edmond Dantes in “The Count of Monte Cristo.”
Being in the O’Neill summer home was “magical. … The play is so much about this place and this home,” says Hazlett, who visited the cottage last November. Visiting the home helped Hazlett gain a deeper understanding of her character and O’Neill’s mother, she says.
Paying Attention to Details
An Everyman veteran and Towson University professor, Daniel Ettinger designed the set for this production of “Long Day’s Journey.”
“I was pretty jealous [that Hazlett was able to visit Monte Cristo],” Ettinger admits. Still, he says the script, online tours of the cottage and intensive research provided him with the information required to make the set closely resemble the actual home.
“I was very careful with the details,” he says. “The patterns of the newel posts, which are part of the stair railing, the style of the wallpaper, and the look and feel of the paneling were pulled directly from the house.”
On the other hand, says Ettinger, his design was adapted for a modern audience viewing the play in Everyman’s space. Ettinger began his design process with two different models.
“The one I worked with through most of the process had the walls all connected,” he says. “It was very closed in. But for me, I’m more concerned about where the actor’s body needs to be to emphasize the [nature of] the character.”
So Ettinger came up with a different, more open design. “When I shared it with people, everyone at the table wanted to go with that one,” he says.
The furnishings used in the production were chosen to reflect the ambiance of the Tyrone household and the state of the family relationships.
“The house doesn’t really come together. It also leaves exposed things that wouldn’t usually be exposed,” says Ettinger. “There isn’t really a lot of attention paid to outward appearance. The wicker furniture in the living room was probably something that was brought in from outside. There’s an ugly love seat. It’s an eclectic mix of all kinds of found items and things left over from other plays.”
Failing to Coalesce
Throughout the play, Mary Tyrone repeatedly criticizes her husband James’ choice to have their home cheaply built and furnished, and bemoans the fact that the house is not really a home. “[The Tyrones] never coalesced into a family,” says Ettinger. “They tried, but they just couldn’t do it.”
Ettinger also made the artistic choice to make the home’s staircase central to the set. “I felt that those stairs were an important avenue for Mary during those periods when she was using morphine,” he says. “When you put Deborah’s performance on top of it, the staircase almost becomes like a character in the script.”
Says Hazlett: “When I got into [Monte Cristo Cottage], I took my shoes off and walked on the floorboards and up the stairs where Mary [O’Neill] disappears into her morphine haze. … I could see the path she must have taken to walk to the dock. So I was able to be in the home and breathe the air she would have breathed. The whole upstairs was very small with low ceilings. I was able to understand the claustrophobia, to see how it must have been for the family to live there together.”
While visiting New London, Hazlett also took time to visit St. Mary’s Cemetery where the O’Neills — with the exception of Eugene, who is interred in Boston — are buried.
“Just being there and putting my hand on the headstone … I said a little prayer for the O’Neills,” Hazlett says. “It was really a gift to have the reality of [Mary O’Neill’s] experience to draw on for my performance. That’s rare.”