A Moon for the Misbegotten at ACT Theatre
Also see David's review of Lend Me a Tenor
Having just seen the impressive but lengthy and downbeat Broadway revival of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, I wasn't so sure I was ready for another dose of the great playwright's particular brand of melancholy autobiography. But A Moon For The Misbegotten is O'Neill in a more wistful, playful and unabashedly romantic mood, and ACT Theatre's admirable production has much to recommend it.
Moon follows up on the story of James (Jim) Tyrone, the alcoholic son from Long Day's, several years after the conclusion of that play. His tyrannical father, James, Sr. and his morphine-addicted mother Mary are both deceased, and James is awaiting the financial settlement of her estate. Perhaps what makes Moon a less gloomy affair is that it is much more about the Hogan family, particularly the nearly Amazonian Josie and her father Phil, who are tenants on a piece of Tyrone owned property in Connecticut. Phil is a rascally old reprobate whose drinking and ill-tempered tirades have driven his sons away, leaving Josie to run the dilapidated farm. Though Josie has perpetuated rumors of being a loose woman, she is a middle-aged virgin with a great longing and tenderness for Jim. Jim cares for Josie as well, far beyond the level of the Broadway trollops he has sex with during his frequent, drunken jaunts in New York. Through Phil's machinations, Josie and Jim share an evening of moonlit magic that gives the too lost souls a measure of comfort and happiness in their otherwise bleak lives.
Director Kurt Beattie does some of his finest recent work on this production, capitalizing on its humors and savoring its romantic soul, at a pace that feels neither rushed nor languid. Best of all, he has a leading lady who takes the role of Josie, most famously essayed by the great Colleen Dewhurst, and embraces it for all it's worth. Jeanne Paulsen gives a salty, vibrant, deeply felt performance as Josie and has been convincingly done up to approximately the physical girth of her mountainous character. John Procaccino as Jim is not as successful as Paulsen in making O'Neill's language his own, but he and Paulsen have good chemistry and Procaccino negotiates Jim's big act two monologue fairly well. Seán G. Griffin is absolutely right as the rough and tumble Phil, and he and Paulsen, so at ease with each other onstage, make a wholly convincing father and daughter team. Scoring in what amount to cameo roles are Galen Joseph Osier as the Hogan's obnoxious wealthy neighbor T. Steadman Harper and David Gehrman as Mike Hogan, Josie's brother who bolts from the farm early on.
Shelley Henze Schermer's farmhouse set is impressively distressed looking, though a more suitable Tobacco Road perhaps than Moon. Geoff Korf's lighting design is especially skillful in the evening scenes and the subtle coming of morning, and Deb Trout's costumes never strike a false note.
Even if O'Neill isn't to your taste, Paulsen and Griffin's performances make this Moon shine brightly enough to warrant your time and attention.
A Moon for the Misbegotten runs through September 28, 2003 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union Street, in downtown Seattle. For further information visit ACT on-line at www.acttheatre.org.