Watching Jez Butterworth’s magnificent play The Ferryman (at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre through July 7), I couldn’t help thinking of Eugene O’Neill in general and Long Day’s Journey into Night in particular. There’s the Irish element (The Ferryman takes place in Northern Ireland in 1981, but all of the characters are Catholic), much late-night disputation over whiskey, a single home for a set, a performance time of more than three hours, and an emotionally vacant mother who occasionally drifts in from upstairs to depress everyone’s spirits. But imagine an O’Neill play that’s actually masterly instead of merely windy, in which dialogue aims for the way people speak instead of settling for how vainglorious dramatists write, that eschews endless thematic repetition in favor of developing a...


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