Josie Hogan (Beth Wittig) lives with her tough and wiley father Phil (Tom Atkins) and sometimes her brothers - the last of whom, Mike (Jason McCune) departs the family home in scene one. Josie is defiant, unafraid of violence and carries a bad reputation. As tenant farmers in 1923 Connecticut, she and her father have had a life of hard work and no breaks. Their landlord is James Tyrone, Jr. (Victor Slezak), a man trapped by his alcoholism, his failures and the memory of his late mother. James and Josie share a certain kind of bond; James and Phil share a love of the drink. Josie is a complex character, yet we learn all sides of her in this two-act play. She yearns for love in a life that has few opportunities for any affection at all. James is drawn to her, but refuses to pull her down his hopeless path.
Wittig is fascinating as Josie (though she could hardly be seen as the "great ugly lump of a woman" as Josie describes herself). Her vulnerability hides barely beneath a layer of great, tough-talking strength. It's easy to see James Tyrone as an actor in Slezak's portrayal, as he comes across as a kind of a song and dance man. The cynicism and self-loathing are in the script, played and underplayed expertly by Slezak, though he may be a bit too slick with Tyrone's cover. Atkins is a natural actor, fully committed to the role, and nearly gritty enough. If the casting is not perfect, it's good enough to show us what O'Neill was going for.
A Moon For the Misbegotten is not uplifting, but it is deservedly a classic American drama. In the Public's current production, it is a tough but fulfilling night of theatre
A Moon For the Misbegotten continues through May 17 at the O'Reilly Theatre. For performance and ticket information, call 412-316-1600 or visit www.ppt.org or the box office.