On Friday, April 6, Keene State College welcomed television and movie stars Kathryn Erbe, David Strathairn, Alex Morf and Marjolaine Goldsmith during the Theater of War’s Addiction Performance Project of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey into Night.”
The dramatic reading consisted of just the third act of the original four acts, all based around a family of four with issues touching addiction, alcoholism, miserliness, promiscuity and physical illness.
Theater of War co-founder Bryan Doerries said a lot of aspects of the screenplay reflects O’Niell’s personal experiences throughout his life.
The performance program states, “The troubled characters in it are based on members of O’Neill’s own family, including his mother, Ella, who struggled with morphine addiction for most of her life.”
While the actors and actresses were only on stage for half an hour, guest-speakers from the Keene community spoke about their personal experiences with alcoholism and drug abuse before it became an open panel.
Many panelists and audience members spoke in relation to the mother character Mary Tyrone, portrayed by Law & Order’s Kathryn Erbe, who struggles with an addiction to prescription drugs and James Tyrone, portrayed by NYPD Blue’s Gordon Clapp, who is the alcoholic father.
Panelist and KSC Adjunct Professor Leaf Seligman teaches a course called Forgiveness and Reconciliation. She said, “The reason I teach that course is from the old adage ‘teach what you need to learn.’ So semester after semester, I embed myself with 20 18-year-olds, and we ‘sit in’ what it means to forgive, and when is it appropriate and when is it not?” Seligman said that every semester she has at least one student who chooses the topic of forgiving “an alcohol or substance-abusing family member.”
Panelist and former Chair of the Monadnock Alcohol and Drug Abuse Coalition Kate McNally said, “To me, a lot of what resonated personally was… Edmund saying how hard it was having a dopefiend mother, going into town and saying, ‘Now who will know that you’re a dopefiend?’ The stigma around the language is something that we focus hard on.”
McNally now works at the Cheshire Coalition for Tobacco Free Communities, located in Cheshire Medical Center, but still supports opioid addicts that face significant trauma, much like the family in “A Long Day’s Journey into Night.”
She said, “What’s hard for me is that everyone in this family, [except for the mother, Mary, are] all alcoholics. There’s this other stigma for the morphine addict than there is for the alcoholic.”
McNally added that current times, “people are understanding that alcoholism is a disease,” but people addicted to morphine or other opioids are looked at negatively.
In Seligman’s personal life, drug abuse and alcoholism attacked her family. Her younger sister lives with autism and became very ill a few years ago.
Seligman said, “I screamed at [my sister] like those actors on the stage. I was hateful and I was awful and I was broken-hearted.”
Seligman said she knows the feeling of rage and being brutal and asking for forgiveness, similar to when the son of the Tyrone family screams at the mother, calling her a dopefiend, before recalling her illness with drug-addiction.
Like the mother of the Tyrone family, Seligman’s mother regretted giving birth to her sister for “causing so much pain in the world.”
“That’s where I connect with this play.” Seligman said. “I share that because probably every single person in the room may not have a family member with an opioid addiction, although I’m guessing many of us do. I want to say, part of the power of theater is that it speaks to the brokenness in all of us and the desire to reconcile in some way, and I think what moves me most is that I’m really happy to say that my sister is much better.”
She said she can understand why the characters needed quick reliefs regarding the parish of certain family members. She added that at the same time people are thinking these negative and harmful thoughts, they are also fearing that the events may happen.
“What binds us together is that humanness,” Seligman said, “so if we can talk about that, then we are part of the way home.”
Many local organizations set up tables in the lobby for counseling or medical services and community groups targeting recovery.
Monadnock Area Peer Support Agency’s Programming Director Jude Grophear said the program connected to her personal and occupational life.
“We see people every day who are dealing with addiction, mental health issues or things like that,” she said. “We lost one of our members to a drug overdose [two years ago], so it’s something that hits close to home.”
Grophear said the script was a bit outdated, but still impactful for the audience. “Talking about the stuff people are like, ‘Let’s not talk about this, let’s not share this,’ it makes a difference for that one person that might be struggling.”
Angelique Inchierca can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org