by Rita Charleston
One fateful summer day, the Tyrone family gathered in New London, Connecticut, bound to a past they are unable to forgive or forget. James and Mary Tyrone and their two sons fight for the stability and survival of their family, but they are caught in a hopeless cycle of love and resentment. As day turns into night and the family indulges in its vices, the truth unravels, leaving behind a quartet of ruined lives.
Such is the plot of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” presented by Quintessence Theater in Residence at the Sedgwick Theater, 7137 Germantown Ave., through Oct. 22. Directed by Alexander Burns, the play is an unashamedly autobiographical account of Eugene O’Neill’s own life. “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is considered one of the most powerful American plays of the 20th century.
The play is set in 1912 and features Paul Hebron as the father, James Tyrone. According to Hebron, “James’ first instinct is to argue. A miser, whiskey is one of the only things he’ll gladly spend money on and refuses to admit he has any kind of problem. Coming here from Ireland after the Great Potato Famine, he quickly learned the value of a dollar and was slow to spend it.
“The family is Irish. So am I, and I grew up in the same sort of a household where nobody said anything about their emotions. Ever. Tragedies were never really dealt with, and my father thought there were only two people in the world to discuss your problems with, the bartender and your priest.”
So playing this character for Hebron was a bit daunting in the beginning, he admits. “It took a lot of work because he’s the opposite of me. Fortunately I became an actor which helped me learn to confront my emotions. And using them in my craft opened up a whole new world for me. So in time I was able to understand his struggles and what was going on in his life.”
Hebron’s life began in New York City, where he was born and raised. That was very fortunate indeed, because one night he got to see a play on Broadway titled “Illya Darling” with Melina Mercouri and Orson Bean. “I was only about eight or 10 years old, but what I was seeing was somehow magical. And so later, when asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I simply pointed to the stage and said, ‘I want to do that!’”
But raised in a more conservative atmosphere by a single father, Hebron says he and his brother were raised to become “a doctor, lawyer or Indian chief. I always did well in school, so I tried to bury my real passion and headed off to Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for my undergraduate work, and then to the University of Colorado at Boulder to study law. But it wasn’t for me. So after just one semester I took a leave of absence, although I think my father and I both realized I was never going back.”
And so began the long road to becoming successful as an actor. He admits it took some time, but it slowly started going his way. Eventually Hebron moved back to New York, where he met his soon-to-be actress wife, Sonja. (Sadly, she passed away in 2010.) The couple lived and worked in New York for more than a decade until they decided to move to Mt. Airy in 2006.
“We looked at a lot of places until we decided on Mt. Airy,” Hebron recalls. “It’s just gorgeous, and we had some friends here and knew people in the theater community, so it felt like a safe haven. My wife also did a lot of research and found it was one of the most desirable and well-integrated neighborhoods in the country. It was such a great fit that we moved right in. And I’m still here today.”
Over the years, Hebron, who is in his early 60s, has appeared on Broadway, off-Broadway and in many regional productions, as well as a great deal of Shakespeare, including “Henry V,” “As You Like It,” “Richard II” and more at Quintessence.
“I think because of the kind of work I do, exploring the inner life of a character has made me a better person, giving me a better feeling of what it means to be human, good or bad. I think every actor should be able to play the best and the worst of people, from Mother Teresa to Hitler. I also like the feeling of community you get in the theater. Something happens on stage.
“The audience is always the last character to show up for a play, and they help to project an energy, a sense of communion between what’s occurring between them and those of us on stage. There are so many factors that make any one performance go well, and when it happens it’s absolutely amazing.”
For more information about “Long Day’s Journey,” call 215-987-4450.