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A Moon for the Misbegotten
The Adobe Theater

A Moon for the Misbegotten
Lorri Oliver, Vernon Poitras and
Scott Sharot

Now I know where the premise for the movie Leaving Las Vegas originated. The movie—which scored Nicolas Cage an Oscar—follows a story that's similar to Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten. A man who is drinking himself to death finds love on the way down. And no matter how genuine and deeply felt the love, it is not enough to break his fall or save his life.

A Moon for the Misbegotten was the final play by one of America's greatest playwrights. O'Neill is considered the father of modern American drama, and he has four Pulitzer Prizes and a Nobel Prize to prove it. Moon is a follow-up to the classic, A Long Day's Journey into Night, which depicts O'Neill's alcoholic family. The character of Jim Tyrone in Moon comes directly from Journey; he is a sketch of O'Neill's older brother Jamie, who died of complications from alcoholism at 44.

The play opens at the broken-down Hogan household. The Hogans are tenet farmers of Irish descent who work a plot of Connecticut land owned by Jim Tyrone (Vernon Poitras). The family patriarch and widower, Phil Hogan (Scott Sharot), has made life miserable for his son Mike (Blake Driver). As the scene opens, Phil's daughter Josie (Lorri Oliver) is seeing Mike off with a handful of cash stolen from Phil.

Soon after Mile departs, Phil bursts on the scene raging against Josie for Mike's disappearance and for stealing the cash. Josie takes Phil's yelling in stride. She's his one offspring who is not intimidated by this hard-drinking father.

The real trouble comes when Jim Tyrone shows up. Jim is Phil's drinking buddy, and he is secretly in love with Josie. She is known in the county for her loose ways. She is also secretly in love with Jim. Phil has been feuding with his neighbor T. Stedman Harder (Eliot Stenzel). Out of anger toward Phil, Harder has decided to buy the Hogan farm from Jim, even though Jim has promised to sell the land to Phil and Josie.

Just to make matters horrible, Harder has offered to buy the farm for a far higher price than what Jim promised the Hogans. While drinking at a nearby inn, Jim teases a drunken Phil that he plans to renege and sell the land to Harder. Phil believes Jim and runs home to Josie with plans to trap Jim in an compromising position, using Josie as the bait.

All this drunken drama brings Jim and Josie together under a lovers' moon. And thus comes the third scene, with Jim and Josie both declaring their love. This is one of the most tender and horrible scenes in American theater. From his earliest plays, O'Neill has been the most genuinely poetic of American playwrights. His poetry is both spiritually deep and humanly dark. We get the full force of O'Neill's poetic—but fatalistic—vision in scene three.

As Jim expresses his love to Josie, his emotions run deep and his darkness comes rushing up. It all gets directed at Josie, his self-loathing at failing his mother, his self-disgust at the whoring that followed his mother's death. All of it comes out in a rage against Josie even as he declares his love and asks her forgiveness.

O'Neill has a good understanding of the maddening emotional swings of a late-stage alcoholic. At one moment Jim insists he loves Josie as he has never loved before. The next moment he rages at her, throws her down, and nearly rapes her. You can't take your eyes off the scene. It's rough, it's real, and it's powerful.

Jim Cady's direction keeps the story flowing well as it moves toward its high notes. He never loses sight of the play's center: love—desperate, damaged and momentary, but love nonetheless. The play climaxes with the highest love: forgiveness. Everything in the production leans to that moment between Josie and Jim when the world finally collapses and Jim finds momentary peace in Josie's arms.

Vernon Poitras turns in a powerful performance as Jim. It's a brave delivery, since Jim's insecurities and failures are in full display. I'm not an actor, but I can't imagine an actor can inhabit Jim without airing his own vulnerabilities. This is a gut-inside-out role, and Poitras oozes Jim Tyrone.

Lorri Oliver as Josie is barefoot perfect. We quickly see she is the strength behind her father and she is also a beacon of potential strength for Jim, even though Jim is too far gone to reach her. She suffers for both men, and she's larger for it. While both men have their bully moments, Josie is impossible to victimize. Oliver captures that well. My favorite moment is when Jim leaves and we see real tears from Oliver. You can't fake that, right?

Scott Sharot does well as the burly monster, Phil, who is under the gentle control of Josie, even though he won't let himself see it. Sharot knows how to yell without raging, how to throw insults without hurting. He has a deft touch at showing credible bluster that still leaves room for a believable tenderness at the end when he and Josie are both stripped of their protective camouflage.

Nice job on the stage direction (Donna Maria Barra), set design (Bob Byers), costumes (Judi Buehler), lighting (Zane Barker), and original music (Thomas Maley). It is a strong presentation of a wonderful play. Kudos to all.

A Moon for the Misbegotten, written by Eugene O'Neill and directed by Jim Cady, is playing at the Adobe Theater, 9813 Fourth St. NW, through February 5. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm. General admission is $15. Senior and student tickets are $13. For reservations, call 505-898-9222 or visit www.adobetheater.org.


Photo: Jim Cady

--Rob Spiegel



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