BWW Reviews: Rubicon's Fine MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN Demands to be Seen
A Moon for the Misbegotten/by Eugene O'Neill/directed by Jenny Sullivan/Rubicon Theatre, Ventura/through April 6
Masterful Eugene O'Neill. The rants and unsettling, oft times witty cries of a poet. Gruff bickering between irascible father and bull-headed daughter, domineering sister and weak brother, landlord and tenant, neighboring landowners... imperfect lovers. Undying schemes and betrayals. Lack of inner peace. Resigned closure. Such are the elements of O'Neill's autobiographical sequel to Long Day's Journey Into Night, A Moon for the Misbegotten, which follows the disintegration of James Tyrone (Joseph Fuqua), a faded Broadway actor whose long pained alcoholic journey to the grave leaves an indelible mark on all who have known him. Now in an excellent adaptation directed by Jenny Sullivan, the Rubicon's Moon for the Misbegotten is lucid and glowing with an outstanding cast.
In 1973, renowned director Jose Quintero, an O'Neill connoisseur, directed Colleen Dewhurst, Jason Robards and Ed Flanders in a remarkable stage revival of the play in New York at the Morosco, later taped for television in 1975. I am thrilled to have seen this brilliant event live, something that can never really be duplicated. The Rubicon and Jenny Sullivan re-envision the piece, giving it a fresh take, making audiences celebrate once more the vast, deeply layered experience that is Eugene O'Neill.
It's Connecticut 1923, several years after Jamie Tyrone's young intimate relationship with his drug-addicted mother. For Josie Hogan (Rebekah Tripp) and her father Phil (Granville Van Dusen), this early September day is one for shocks and surprises. Their farmhouse, which has been falling into shambles for years, is about to be sold by landlord Tyrone to T. Steadman Harder (Scott Roberts) a snobbish wealthy neighbor who has complaints about Hogan's pigs invading his ice pond. Josie, madly in love with Tyrone, has a loose reputation with men around town and it would please Phil no end to see her married off to Tyrone, who is about to inherit a windfall. Phil and Josie plot to blackmail Tyrone, as Tyrone had promised to sell the property to Phil, but the whole scheme backfires when Tyrone tells Josie that his deal with Harder is a scam.
Set in the Greek tragedy mode in a twenty-four hour period from noon to sunrise of the following day, Moon for the Misbegotten has miles of heart and Irish humor and is chillingly gripping in its Act III scenario by moonlight between Josie and Tyrone. They both want each other desperately but their union is ill-fated due to Tyrone's alcohol-induced illness which has left him physically and mentally impotent. Josie's earth-mother cradling of Jamie in her arms as he sleeps is symbolic of the Pieta in all its spirituality and artistic beauty. She gives him much need comfort. He wins, but she loses, or so it seems, at first glance. But...this experience, this intensely personal contact brings her to a whole new level of awareness of who she is and what she must do with the rest of her life. Josie is not the slut she has made herself out to be, but a virgin, saving herself for Jamie Tyrone. Her moments of revelation are earth-shattering. Jamie's disclosure to her of his disloyalty to his dead mother makes him even more pathetic and lost, simultaneously a heartbroken as well as heartbreaking child.
Sullivan has wisely trimmed the play down and stuck to the core, while remaining totally faithful to O'Neill's dialogue and intent. The acting is first-rate. Tripp is magnificent as Josie. Built strong and robust, she is a perfect fit for Josie's tomboyish nature and gives a refreshing take on the suffering woman with the heart of gold. Her tearful self-acceptance in the last scene is winningly heartfelt. Van Dusen steals the hour as Phil Hogan. His conniving, rude and unbridled manner and salty sense of humor are absolutely invigorating. He commands the stage. Fuqua is such a marvel with creating character. he completely steeps himself in Tyrone's selfishness and horrorific guilt, anguish and self-loathing. Toby Tropper does fine with his brief scene up top as departing brother Mike Hogan. Roberts is less convincing as Harder and needs more time to build ardor and realistic anger in his confrontations with Hogan. Thomas S. Giamario has constructed a perfectly credible dilapidated farmhouse and Marcy Froehlich's costumes fit the period bill.
It is rare to find a play of such magnitude in big ideas and emotions as A Moon for the Misbegotten. Characters undergo drastic alterations; joy and pain bounce joltingly off of one another from moment to moment. This is complicated, tricky stuff to pull off. The Rubicon can feel rightfully proud once more for this lovely evening in the theatre.