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Regional Reviews: San Francisco

A Beautiful Production of Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten

Also see Richard's reviews of Menopause, the Musical and the The Black Eyed

Robin Weigert and Marco Barricelli
American Conservatory Theatre is currently presenting Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten at the Geary Theatre through May 29th. This sterling production focuses on three outstanding characters: Josie, a robust towering Irish woman with a quick tongue and a ruined reputation; her scheming father Phil Hogan; and James Tyrone Jr., the landlord and drinking companion who is a cynical alcoholic haunted by the death of his mother. The sequel to the playwright's masterpiece Long Day's Journey into Night takes place on the Tyrone's Connecticut farm which has been leased to the harrying widower Phil Hogan. The play is a unique blend of comedy, tragedy and autobiography. O'Neill wrote the play in 1943 but it was not published until 1952 and finally performed on stage in 1957.

James Tyrone Jr.'s parents are now dead and he has come back to the farm after his mother's death to await the estate to be settled. He loves to visit the Hogan farm where he can smoke a cigarette, have a nip of the Irish curse, and banter with Phil Hogan. He also comes to the farm to see the plain-talking Josie, who he believes to be pure and virginal. Josie is secretly in love with the pessimistic hard-drinking man.

During one of James and Phil's drunken bouts, James jokingly threatens to sell his land to his rich Standard Oil magnate neighbor who wants the "poor trash" off the land next to his estate. Phil wants to secure his hold on the farm and he knows there is mutual affection between his daughter and Tyrone. The father convinces Josie that Jim intends to sell the farm and encourages Josie to seduce Jim and force a marriage proposal.

Jim goes to the ramshackle house after the big drunken bout to gain some solace from Josie. He spurns Josie's advances and reassures her that he is not going to sell the farm to the rich neighbor. Josie learns that this was part of her father's scheme. During this long sequence Jim relates the drinking, whoring and the nightmarish train journey when he was accompanying his mother's coffin from Los Angeles to New York. This is a "grand" scene in the truest sense of the old Irish word that my grand mother used. In the play's poignant conclusion, these two "misbegotten" lovers come together to realize the truth about themselves and that Jim will always live in misery.

Moon for the Misbegotten has never been one of my favorite O'Neill play since I had found the second act lethargic and full of the playwright's pretense of speech. Most directors have made the long scene between Josie and James almost too poetic and sluggish. Director Laird Williamson has removed much of the showiness and artifice and has speeded up the production. The grief that these characters feel is now very genuine, but it never becomes too saccharine.

Robin Weigert returns to the Geary Stage as Josie and gives a jaunty performance. Recently seen in HBO's Deadwood as Calamity Jane, she is superb in this role. Weigert is strong, husky and looks and acts like a hard-working woman. She swaggers around and has a beautiful Irish lilt about her voice. Marco Barricelli, making his last appearance as an A.C.T. core actor, is excellent as the James Tyrone Jr. This actor has one of the best voices in the American theatre, displayed beautifully in this production. He plays James as a person who has no will to live. He has shamed himself in his past lives and is nothing but a shell of a man. His long blank stares during the second act are heartrending.

Veteran A.C.T. actor Raye Birk commands the role of the scheming Irish father. He switches from being a charming rascal to a person with screaming rage. It is an amazing performance. His scene with the millionaire, played by David Arrow, is wonderful and almost like an old-fashioned vaudeville act, with great timing by both of the actors. Andy Butterfield is Mike Hogan, who leaves the farm - a small, showy role at the beginning of the play.

Robert Mark Morgan's staging includes a very unusual set that has the decaying farm walls floating overhead like a giant umbrella. It is a strange, almost dreamlike set that shows the structure of the house to be old and dilapidated. There are fence lines going across the stage, and rocks assembled in a construction manner. A large, detailed moon dominates, moving across a cloudy sky during the night scenes. The lighting by Don Darnutzer is realistic, especially during the last scene when the moon disappears while dawn is approaching.

A Moon for the Misbegotten runs through May 29th at the Geary Theatre, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-749-2228 or visit A.C.T.'s next production is Edward Albee's The Goat or Who Is Sylvia?, running June 10th through July 10th.

Photo: Kevin Berne

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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