Thursday, February 15, 2018

Of Cheers and Booze: Strong Performances Power 'A Moon For the Misbegotten' at Writers Theatre -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

A Moon for the Misbegotten 
by Eugene O'Neill
directed by William Brown
Writers Theatre, Glencoe
Thru March 18

It's always good for me to see a Eugene O'Neill play, as--along with Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams--he is considered one of the holy trinity of American playwriting. (I'd add David Mamet and August Wilson to my starting five.)

Over the past two decades, I'd seen five of the famed New Englander's works--Long Day's Journey into Night, The Iceman Cometh, Desire Under the Elms, Ah, Wilderness! and The Hairy Ape--none more than once.

I remember really liking Iceman and Long Day's Journey, but have been less drawn in by O'Neill than the other towering figures above.

The eloquence of his dialogue is readily apparent, but his plays tend to be dark, dense and looooong. 

Photo credit on all: Michael Brosilow
My sense of appreciation for the quality of Eugene O'Neill's domestic dramas, and the value in seeing them--though usually short of overt captivation--was reiterated Wednesday night with a fine new production of A Moon for the Misbegotten at Writers Theatre.

I can't compare it with any past renditions, but director William Brown's decision to cast African-American actors to embody the play's three members of the Hogan family--traditionally caucasian Irish-Americans--feels rather deft.

Especially as Bethany Thomas as Josie and A.C. Smith as her father, Phil Hogan, are terrific. (Cole Sebastian Pierre is also stellar as Josie's brother Mike, but it's a rather brief role.)

That there is essentially a full-size ramshackle house onstage is also rather impressive, in showcasing the gifts of set designer Todd Rosenthal while bespeaking the quality of the production values at Writers in their beautiful home of just a couple years.

Act I crackles with terrific acting and often LOL dialogue as first Josie and Mike, and then she and her papa Phil, throw verbal haymakers at one another.

But--and I feel compelled to confess that watching a play in the north suburbs after a workday downtown had my eyelids occasionally drooping, though only during the first hour of three--not that much of narrative consequence seems to happen in Act I.

And while it's probably critically amateurish to whine about a play's length, especially by the venerated Eugene O'Neill--and Moon is considerably shorter than The Iceman Cometh and Long Day's Journey Into Night--it seemed to me that the same essence could be conveyed more efficiently, without sacrificing much of the character depth as it stands.

The play's other main character, Jim Tyrone (played by Jim DeVita), was one of the two sons in Long Day's Journey Into Night, making Moon for the Misbegotten ostensibly a sequel.

His parents dead and brother elsewhere, Jim owns the Connecticut farm where the Hogans live and work. Haunted by his mother's addictions, he is an alcoholic seemingly past the point of no return.

Phil and Josie catch wind of Jim's intention to sell the farm to another neighbor (Eric Parks), and they devise a seduction scheme that--in a way not entirely clear to me--will presumably force Jim to sell it instead to Phil, for far less.

As Josie has feelings for Jim anyway, she's open to pursuing this angle, which drives the increasingly powerful second and third acts.

There is considerable pathos in both characters, and true tenderness between them, but while Thomas and DeVita are both excellent in their roles, I rarely sensed much actual chemistry between them.

So at the end of the long play's journey into night, I was again glad to add an O'Neill classic to my bank of shows seen, and I was impressed and entertained on multiple levels.

This is clearly a quality staging of an estimable play.

But even compared to Court Theatre's just-ended top notch rendition of Arthur Miller's All My Sons, my first gaze upon A Moon for the Misbegotten didn't leave me all that lovestruck.

Not even on Valentine's Day.

1 comment:

Ken said...

Misbegotten long day's journey eclipses moon.