The presence of William Hurt, the celebrated actor of Altered States and Kiss of the Spider Woman, is the prime selling point of Sydney Theatre Company's new production of Eugene O'Neill's masterwork, more so even than the notoriety of the director (Andrew Upton, husband of Cate Blanchett) or the company (a 30-year-old Australian institution). It makes good business sense for Artists Repertory Theatre, which is presenting the production's only performances in the U.S., to play up the celebrity angle—the company's trying to sell some 23,300 tickets over three weeks—but the reason I'm excited for the show is that it features one of Portland's finest actors, Todd Van Voris, in what he describes as the role of a lifetime.
"Long Day's Journey is one of the best plays ever, and I am just so thrilled to get to work on that," Van Voris told me in an interview in May. "It's one of those opportunities that so rarely come along for any actor, to get one of those roles that are the mainstays of all theater. So, yeah, it'll be neat to be in Australia and work with William Hurt and probably meet Cate Blanchett, but the overarching thing is the show itself. It doesn't get much better than that."
Van Voris plays Jamie Tyrone, the sneering, alcoholic, perennially out-of-work son of an equally alcoholic successful actor (Hurt) and a barely functional morphine addict (Robyn Nevin, the doyenne of Australian actresses). Van Voris, a powerful actor with a voluptuous voice who isn't often asked to play vulnerable characters, says the role is of deep personal importance to him.
"It's [O'Neill's] most autobiographical play, and because of that, we get the sense of real people," he said. "There's a lot of this play that's harmonic with my upbringing as well—my mother was not unlike Mary Tyrone."
Van Voris' best performances in Portland have been those that forced him to abandon the canny jollity that seems to come easily to him and delve into more perverse or wretched territory. I expect his Jamie will be one of these, and I cannot wait.
Newmark Theatre, Portland Center for the Performing Arts, 1111 SW Broadway, 248-4335. 7:30 pm Tuesdays-Sundays, 2 pm Wednesdays and Sundays. Closes Sept. 5. $58-$84, $31.25 students.