Volume 19 Issue 49 | April 20 - 26, 2007


Written by Eugene O’Neill
Directed by Howard Davies
Brooks Atkinson Theatre
256 W. 47th St.

Simon Annand

Colm Meany outshines even star Kevin Spacey in the revival of Eugene O’Neill’s “Moon for the Misbegotten.”

O’Neill’s ‘Moon’ rises again

By Scott Harrah

Eugene O’Neill was never known for writing lighthearted fare, and “A Moon for the Misbegotten” is one of his most serious and difficult plays to watch. This ambitious revival — first mounted in London by the Old Vic Theater Company, where star Kevin Spacey is artistic director — is powerful and emotionally arresting. Although two-time Oscar winner Spacey gets top billing as alcoholic landlord Jim Tyrone, British costars Eve Best (as the mentally tortured Irish-American farmwoman Josie Hogan) and Colm Meany as her salty father, Phil, give the sharpest performances here.

It is always interesting to see how British directors and producers interpret American plays, and no playwright was more intrinsically American than O’Neill. The story is set on a dilapidated farm in rural Connecticut circa 1923, but the rustic set, with its red dirt floor, makes the setting seem more like dust-bowl era Oklahoma. However, such tiny flaws are completely overshadowed by the visceral energy of Best and Meany’s talent and their unforgettable characters: a father and daughter with a lifetime of hard luck and demons to exorcize.

“A Moon for the Misbegotten” has played on Broadway several times. Colleen Dewhurst gave what many called the definitive portrayal of big, homely Josie in 1974 opposite Jason Robards, and Cherry Jones tackled the role in 2000. Best may be softer and more feminine and petite than previous Josies, but she more than makes up for it by giving a rock-solid performance of a woman starved for love and a sense of truth in her troubled life.

The play centers on Josie’s love for Jim Tyrone, a character also seen in “Long Day’s Journey into Night” that is supposedly based on O’Neill’s real-life brother, a failed actor who sought solace in booze. At nearly three hours long, the story drags at times, but Spacey and company play up some of the story’s few comic moments to enliven an otherwise hauntingly dark, gritty tale. Nothing goes well on the Hogan’s farm. A patrician neighbor (Billy Carter) isn’t happy about the Hogan family’s pigs wandering onto his property, and he threatens to buy the farm from Jim and evict Josie and Phil. Josie’s younger brother Mike (Eugene O’Hare) has left the farm, fed up with his father, and Josie is forced to take care of the property and her cantankerous dad all on her own.

Josie’s only ray of proverbial hope is Jim Tyrone, a man torn apart with guilt over the recent death of his mother. Spacey’s take on Jim is original, if not slightly uneven at times. He is sometimes smug, witty and cavalier, but is most effective when in the midst of one of his many meltdowns. Spacey sometimes speaks so rapidly that it is hard to understand O’Neill’s poetic dialogue, but we still get an effective portrayal of a man who seems to have lost everything.

Colm Meany is perhaps the show’s finest performer. With his high-spirited tirades and imposing stage presence, it is easy to see why Josie is confused as to whether she should love her helpless father or abandon him like her brother did. “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” even 50 years after its original production in 1957, still paints a realistic portrait of sorrow, self-destruction and family dysfunction that seems quite relevant today.

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