There is a reason the plays of Eugene O'Neill continue to be revived. Though they grow superficially less accessible for each new generation - the length, the words, the unpleasant co-dependent relationships and appalling substance abuse - they continue to speak in a commanding and compelling voice of the essence of human nature and frailty. Unique in O'Neill's oeuvre, A Moon for the Misbegotten also speaks of the deep love and affection the characters only begrudgingly admit feeling for each other. Moon was the last play O'Neill wrote and, even though he reportedly grew to hate its underlying themes of affection and forgiveness, it is a fitting final expression of his genius. This production, which opened last night at the Walter Kerr Theatre, is an altogether dazzling tribute to that genius.
I suppose, having seen what Cherry Jones can do with a good role in a period drama, in the 1995 revival of The Heiress, and being reminded just how enduring a playwright the Nobel Prize winning Eugene O'Neill is by last season's revival of The Iceman Cometh, I should have been more prepared for this revival of A Moon for the Misbegotten. But, you can never anticipate where lightening will strike; and pure, unadulterated talent always comes as a surprise.
There is no way to explain Cherry Jones, except to say that she combines the naive charm and innocence of a young Helen Hayes, the ability to seduce an audience in a moment of emotional and physical intimacy of a mature Lynn Fontanne, and the authority and command of a stage of Katharine Hepburn. To these attributes, add a startling, straight-forward honesty and a face that seems to mirror every possible human emotion. To put it simply, in the role of Josie Hogan, a woman who cannot accept her own body and trust her own emotions, Cherry Jones quietly and with grace assumes the mantle of the greatest American actress of her generation.
Gabriel Byrne gives a mesmerizing, low-key performance as the alcoholic James Tyrone, Jr., O'Neill's dramatic avatar. Byrne's Tyrone, all easy assurances and hollow, haunted eyes, is almost too painful to watch as fear destroys his last chance to make a longed-for emotional commitment. Fortunately, Roy Dotrice, as Phil Hogan, Josie's father and Tyrone's tenant and drinking buddy, eases us through the difficult passages with a soul-satisfying performance as a feisty, grandiloquent, and cagey old codger.
Daniel Sullivan's direction is subtle and sure. Eugene Lee's set is wonderfully over the top, absolutely fitting in every detail, and has to be seen to be believed.
A Moon for the Misbegotten is one of the true gems of this theatrical season, not to be missed.
A Moon for the Misbegotten by Eugene O'Neill. Directed by Daniel Sullivan. Starring Cherry Jones, Gabriel Byrne, and Roy Dotrice, with Tuck Milligan and Paul Hewitt. Scenic design by Eugene Lee. Costume design by Jane Greenwood. Lighting design by Pat Collins. Original music and sound design by Richard Woodbury.
Theatre: Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th Street
Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, with one 15 minute intermission
Audience: May be inappropriate for children 12 and under
Schedule: Tuesday through Saturday at 8 PM, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM, Sunday at 3 PM
Ticket prices: $70 and $60, with an additional $1 Restoration charge, per ticket, for the restoration and preservation of the theatre
Standing room: Available at the Box Office, the day of performance, only when the show is sold out
Tickets online: http://www.telecharge.com/
Tickets by phone: Tele-charge (212) 239-6200, or outside the NY metro area (800) 545-2559, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Tickets in person: Box Office hours Monday through Saturday 10 AM to 8 PM, Sunday Noon to 6 PM
Tickets by snail mail: A Moon for the Misbegotten, PO Box 998, Times Square Station, New York, NY 10108-0998
Tickets by E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org