A Moon for the Misbegotten, Eugene O’Neill’s timeless masterpiece that was first performed in 1947, has been produced five times on Broadway. I was lucky enough to see the revival starring Cherry Jones and Gabriel Byrne. Thanks to a superb cast and wonderful direction by J. R. Sullivan, theatergoers can now enjoy an equally unforgettable production that works well in the more intimate setting of New York City Center Stage II.
As any O’Neill fan knows, several of his most celebrated dramas explore heartbreaking universal themes about loneliness, despair, the search for love, and the possibility of final redemption for one’s sins. These classics are particularly devastating because they are so personal: They are based on tragic events in the lives of the playwright and his family, and Moon is no exception.
Set in a dilapidated, rural Connecticut farmhouse in 1923, the drama centers around tenant pig farmer, Phil Hogan, his single daughter, Josie, and their landlord, James Tyrone, Jr. Jim’s character was inspired by the troubled life of O’Neill’s alcoholic older brother, James. Desperately fearful that the landlord is about to sell the farm out from under him, Phil hatches up a not very well-thought-out scheme to bring Josie and Jim together for one romantic moonlit night in the hopes that Josie can use her wits and feminine charms to make Jim change his mind.
All the performances are simply outstanding. Kim Martin-Cotten embodies every aspect of Josie Hogan, a large but handsome, passionate woman who, starved for love, has invented a brazen public persona to protect herself from the pain of rejection. Andrew May is haunting to watch as the anguished, self-destructive and jaded Jim, who has long gotten by on his fading good looks and charm. He can see through the false front Josie has created for herself. Like Josie, he too is a lost soul, tortured by a longing for what might have been but is no longer possible. As Phil, Dan Daily captures the essence of a gruff, verbally abusive father who loves his daughter, although he often fails to express his true feelings.
This Moon for the Misbegotten is an altogether luminous experience and a bittersweet tale that lovers of emotionally probing theater can’t afford to miss.
A Moon for the Misbegotten; Written by Eugene O’Neill; Directed by J. R. Sullivan; The Pearl Theatre Company at New York City Center Stage II; 131 West 55th Street; 212-581-1212; www.pearltheatre.org