Theater goers who have read or have seen Eugene O’Neill’s ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’ and its sequel, ‘A Moon for the Misbegotten,’ and so are familiar with the character of James Tyrone Jr. (based on O’Neill’s alcoholic brother Jamie), might wonder why Writers Theatre is going for laughs in the first part of ‘Moon’ instead of building on its premise of needy people.
There is a playful mood in the first act instead of one that emphasizes the problems faced by O’Neill’s characters, tenant farmers, dad Phil Hogan (A.C. Smith) and daughter Josie (Bethany Thomas), and their landlord, James Tyrone (Jim De Vita).
Instead of the Irish family that O’Neill wrote about, director William Brown has transferred the Hogan’s woes into that experienced by a black family. That change doesn’t matter as to the story line’s legitimacy. The roles are played by consummate actors. Watching them is usually a pleasure but perhaps in a different context.
More tension needs to build to the third act which is the exceedingly important culmination of really looking at themselves, stripping off their persona covers and finding the love that they desperately seek is with each other.
Josie who thinks she’s not attractive has been trading promiscuity for real love. James who has been drowning his grief for his late mother with alcohol, needs mothering and thinks he finds it with Josie.
Thus the scene should be more emotionally draining. Their lives may have been “misbegotten”so far, but now they have the moon to help them.
An underlying plot is to stop James from selling their farm to Harder, a wealthy neighbor who doesn’t like the Hogan’s pigs to break through his fence and get into his ice pond. Drink and seduction enter into that plot but become unnecessary when James admits he was just kidding about selling. Thus Josie and James are really free to find each other and themselves.
The production’s setting is still O’Neill’s Connecticut farm in 1923 but neither the time period nor the state make a difference to the playwright’s theme of finding inner truth and love. Without continual focus and buildup, the play’s nearly three hours is difficult to sit through which is a shame because Josie’s and James emotional revelations are at the classic’s core.
DETAILS: ‘A Moon for the Misbegotten’ is at Writers’ Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, through March 18, 2018. Running time is about 3 hours 50 minutes. For tickets and other information visit Writers Theatre.
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