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This review by Jack Florek was prepared for the March 21, 2001
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: `Moon for Misbegotten’
Early in the first act of "A Moon for the
Josie looks her brother in the eyes and says, "You’re worse than
decent, you’re virtuous." But all is not as it appears, because
Josie’s dirty little secret is that she’s not nearly as bawdy as she
appears. Such are the subtleties of Eugene O’Neill’s "A Moon For
The Misbegotten," where no one is simply what they appear to be.
It is not surprising to discover that it was Eugene O’Neill’s final
play because it is packed with a lifetime’s worth of craftsmanship.
What is surprising is that it took years for it to be appreciated.
Written in 1943, it wasn’t until 1957 that it received its Broadway
premiere, and it wasn’t until after it was revived in 1973 that it
was widely declared a masterpiece.
Now as then, the play challenges actors and audiences. At Bristol
Riverside Theatre, director Susan B. Atkinson is presenting O’Neill’s
masterwork featuring Jo Twiss as Josie and Edward Keith Baker as James
Tyrone Jr. With some notable strengths and a few deficiencies, the
production runs through April 1.
Neatly constructed in four acts (with one intermission), O’Neill uses
the first two acts to carefully assemble his cast of characters,
rich psychological peculiarities with a good shot of disarming comedy.
Then, after he has drawn his audience into a sense of emotional
in these people, the playwright lowers the boom: the fourth act has
been called the most explosive in modern drama.
Set on a Connecticut farm in 1923, "A Moon For The
tells the story of a high-spirited, drunken old sot named Phil Hogan
(Tom McCarthy) who lives with his voluptuous daughter Josie (Jo
Together, for fear of losing their run-down farm, the two concoct
a plan to prevent its owner, James Tyrone Jr. (Edward Keith Baker),
from selling it to a rich grump, T. Stedman Harder (Kenneth Boys).
They fear that if he gets his hands on the place he’ll displace them
from their digs.
This is the plot, but what makes "A Moon For The Misbegotten"
such a wonderful play is its wealth of psychological complexities
that progressively reveal the masks that people wear in order to avoid
becoming vulnerable to one another. As in Shakespeare, no one is
as they appear. A braggart is ultimately revealed to be inept and
frightened. A loose woman is at bottom, a lonely and desperate
Although "A Moon For the Misbegotten" (as well
as a number of other O’Neill productions of recent years) was steeped
in accolades when it was revived again on Broadway last year, there
are inherent dangers in presenting O’Neill to a modern audience. Heavy
with talk and laced with carefully nuanced exposition, it is a
to keep a 21st-century audience, with our notoriously short attention
In this respect, director Susan B. Atkinson does a nice job keeping
the energy high and her characters on the move. Because of the play’s
intricacy, it is easy for a director to tip her hand and allow later
events to spill into earlier ones. Atkinson avoids this by carefully
giving each moment its full investigation, setting the moment as the
characters are living it in a kind of delicately sculpted slab of
stone and trusting the playwright to do his own foreshadowing. One
directorial bugaboo, however, is that she allows her actors to be
too loosey-goosey with their Irish accents, letting them slide in
and out of dialect.
Jo Twiss plays Josie, the quick-thinking virgin pretending to be a
slut, with a calculating efficiency. She ricochets from emotion to
emotion at the flicker of an eyelash, going from anger, to impatience,
to giggling happiness, to manipulative coyness — all in the space
of a minute of stage time. Her precise adherence to Josie’s emotional
nuances is a key ingredient to the play’s success because the audience
sees the world largely through Josie’s eyes. Bristol Riverside Theatre
is fortunate to have such an accomplished actress in such a vital
Edward Keith Baker as James Tyrone Jr. has a certain slickness to
his stage presence that certainly suits a character who is desperately
trying to avoid real intimacy and emotional honesty. But Baker is
less successful when his character drops this slick exterior, because
the actor still wears it. The effect is unconvincing and a bit
something like seeing Robert Goulet sing a dirge.
Tom McCarthy as Phil Hogan, is less the potential brutish father with
a soft side and more like a giggly little elf stuck inside a whiskey
bottle. His character tends to display an emotional euphoria that
slurps over the side of even the play’s most comic moments, giving
them an edge that rings false. Simply stated, he seems to be having
a bit too much fun playing the part.
Nels Anderson’s set designs are once again excellent. He is a good
craftsman who seems to always deliver a aesthetically functional
that serves the performance well. Likewise Charles S. Reece’s lighting
design. He has emerged as one of the area’s best designers, with an
ability to achieve a subtlety that is truly excellent. His lighting
design performs, in essence, as another character: present, but
"A Moon For The Misbegotten" is a big bite of O’Neill, and
certainly not to everyone’s tastes. But by surrendering to its
it is possible to discover a richness that is rarely found in modern
drama. It is astounding to see how much emotional truth can be packed
into one play.
— Jack Florek
120 Radcliffe Street, Bristol, 215-785-0100. Performances continue
through April 1. $27 to $34.
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