Theatre Mirror Reviews - "A Moon for The Misbegotten"

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"A Moon for The Misbegotten"

by Eugene O'Neill
Directed by Rick Lombardo

Set Design by Janie Fliegel
Lighting Design by John Malinowski
Costume Design by Toni Elliott
Sound Design by Rick Lombardo
Stage Manager Johnie Steele

Josie Hogan...................Anne-Marie Cusson
Mike Hogan..........................John Byrnes
Phil Hogan..............................Ed Peed
James Tyrone Jr. ...............John FitzGibbon
T. Stedman Harder.................Duncan Putney

The Irish are great kidders, great talkers, great performers, great poets, great drinkers, and though they often forgive they never, ever forget. And one of the best Irish playwrights who ever lived was an american the name of Eugene O'Neill. Out at The New Repertory Theatre, the first two acts of his "A Moon for The Misbegotten" are funnier than Sean O'Casey's "Juno & The Paycock" and the last two more harrowing than "The Plough & The Stars" and so what if every moment of it takes place on a hardscrabble farm in Connecticut in 1923. The Irish are Irish anywhere and any time --- may God bless their hilarious, shamelessly proud, tormented souls.

The first half of the play is mostly the liltingly cantankerous battles of grizzle-chinned Phil Hogan (Ed Peed) and his lolloping great barefoot washerwoman of a daughter Josie (Anne-Marie Cusson). They've been brawling so long it's all become ritual --- though neither gives an inch in their old familiar games, and they'll unite in an instant should any outsider insult or threaten the family. Josie wears her reputation as the town floozie as a defense of her fierce pride, just as Hogan is better with his wits and his tongue than he'll ever be with a plough. Their prattling and rough-housing and trading insults are a deadly serious sham duel either would be shocked ever to win, but they play wit and bravado to the hilt and never give quarter to each other nor anyone else.

The second half though is the obverse of the Irish soul, and Josie is here paired with their indifferent landlord James Tyrone Junior (John FitzGibbon). An actor and the son of an actor, James drinks not to invigorate his present, but to forget his past. His curse is knowing that sex and love are totally different things, and Josie early on decided she was willing to be whatever he really needs. Through a long moon-lit night she plays loving, forgiving confessor as he confronts the demons of his past.

Throughout the evening, levels of truth fall away like scales from an onion, as these three principals reveal more and more to each other, and to themselves. FitzGibbon's final confessions would be unendurable without Cusson's tender acceptance, just as Peed's upstart posturings would be clowning without her rejoinders and her grudging admiration.

Act one begins with Josie sending the last of Hogan's three boys away to Bridgeport to escape slavery to his tyrannical father. John Byrnes endures the cuffing and the chiding of his big, barefoot sister as though he'd endured it for years --- and knew it for a gruff expression of love. Later Duncan Putney comes on as Hogan's irate millionaire neighbor who proves no match for his uppity Irish high dudgeon. Both roles give first Cusson and then Peed opportunities to explicate their characters in what is essentially a three person play. As actors, they are doomed, though their work is excellent, to play characters overshadowed by everything else in the show.

But theater never happens in a vacuum, and the night could not succeed without these characters; nor without John Malinowski's lighting making the moon shine through leaves as it rises and brighten overhead later, nor without his burgeoning sunrise washing everyone clean of lies at play's end; nor without Janie Fliegel's shanty-Irish ruin of a farmhouse backed and roofed in green leaves, or Toni Elliott's costumes eloquently defining class distinctions, or Rick Lombardo's barely audible songbirds defining summer in the country.

Lombardo has directed the first half as filled with the music of Irish railery and bravado, the second as a dark night of Jamie Tyrone's soul. He has orchestrated the whole so that the few hours from noon till sun-up illuminate every nuance of these three Irish lives.

It's enough to start a Eugene O'Neill revival.


"A Moon for The Misbegotten" (till 26 October)
54 Lincoln Street, NEWTON HIGHLANDS

THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide