Regional Reviews: New Jersey
A Moon for the Misbegotten Shines Brightly at Luna Stage
The setting is the dilapidated, modest Connecticut farmhouse of tenant farmer Phil Hogan during a fateful eighteen hours between early afternoon of one day in early September, 1923, and sunrise the following morning. As the play begins, Hogan's son Mike is about to sneak away from the farm in order to escape the tyranny and hard labor imposed on him by his father. Without the assistance and insistence of Josie, his strong, fearless, big hearted, physical giant of a sister, the cowed and timid Mike would be unable to gather the courage to escape his father. Mike is following in the footsteps of two older brothers who long before had made similar departures.
Josie is not only a match for her father, but the two are boisterously in tune with one another, and seem to have instinctively collaborated in sending her three brothers out into the world to independently make their way in life.
James Tyrone, Jr., who is their landlord, is due to arrive shortly for a visit. The dissolute 44-year-old James (he is 33 in Long Day's Journey which is set in 1912) has been an actor on the New York stage and yearns to return there. However, haunted by his mother's death and the surrounding circumstances, he is a deeply depressed, chronic alcoholic who can only stare into the abyss ("When no one's looking, James walks with his eyes on the ground like a mourner at his own funeral."). He has promised to sell the farm to Hogan and Josie at a price which they can afford, but the pair fear that James will sell it to a Standard Oil magnate who has an adjoining estate and will overpay for the farm just to get the bothersome Hogans out of his hair. Hogan tells Josie to get James drunk and then into bed with her. Armed with a shotgun, he would walk in on them and intimidate James into marrying her. Josie eventually agrees to this idiocy when convinced by the misguided Hogan that Tyrone is about to sell the farm out from under them.
The reality is that Josie and James are simpatico, long term friends. Josie desperately loves James. James has deep feelings for her. However, in his self loathing, he is convinced that he is too debauched and debased to bring her any happiness. However, Josie and Tyrone will have one last poignant night together during which flickers of hope spark our sympathy and emotional involvement with the tragedy of these two tragically lost souls.
Claire Warden is most poignant when she finally reveals her desperate love for James. At the start, Warden is the most captivating and feminine Josie that I have seen. She is more the desirable town slut that she fancies herself than one usually sees. Yet Warden manages to carry herself with the outsized muscular physicality of Josie. It is not easy to combine these qualities, both of which are necessary to fully realize Josie. The dapperly costumed David Sedgwick accurately projects the protective nonchalance behind which James Tyrone hides his pain. Under the influence of alcohol and his moonlit night with Josie, Sedgwick convincingly unleashes James' painfully raw and debilitating emotions.
There is entertaining humor to be found in the personalities and relationship of Hogan and his daughter Josie, and in their interaction with their nemesis from Standard Oil. The bulk of the humor is entrusted to Paul Carlin in the role of Phil Hogan. Whatever might be behind his harsh demands on his son, in Carlin's hands, Hogan is an entertaining rascal who knows better than to confront Josie. Kenneth Boys (the Standard Oil magnet) and Steven Conroy (son, Mike Hogan) lend able support.
Credit director Nancy Robillard with providing an unusual buoyancy to Misbegotten. It seems to derive from the intimacy of her staging and the unusually strong white "moonlight" provided by lighting designer John Burkland. A more realistic, darker lighting scheme in the nighttime scenes when seen in other productions has made them lugubrious and distancing (It may be simply a personal preference, but I would prefer scripts and designers to find ways to convey darkness without the difficulties caused by extremely dark stage lighting.) In any event, O'Neill has written a poetic elegy for his brother Jamie which requires a poetically bright moon. The simply, artfully white-washed farmhouse designed by Charles Murdock Lucas has been placed far upstage in order to keep the entire action of the play up close and personal.
With these design elements and the performances of Claire Warden and David Sedgwick, Nancy Robillard's production fully conveys the heart, brilliance and touch of the poet in A Moon for the Misbegotten.
A Moon for the Misbegotten continues performances (Evenings: Thursday 7:30 pm; Friday & Saturday 8 pm/ Matinees: Sunday 3 pm) through May 5, 2013, at Luna Stage Theatre Company, 555 Valley Road, West Orange, New Jersey 07052. Box office: 973-395-5551; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; website: www.lunastage.org.
A Moon for the Misbegotten by Eugene O'Neill; directed by Nancy Robillard