"Moon for the Misbegotten" at the Old Vic
A Moon for the Misbegotten
Old Vic, London
After stumbling badly with a dire production of “Resurrection Blues,” and closing the theater for the summer, Kevin Spacey and the Old Vic have returned with a magnificent, powerful production of a touchstone of American theater--Eugene O’Neill’s last play, “A Moon for the Misbegotten.” The play, intimate and accessible yet three hours long, is all too little seen (its last major production was more than twenty years ago). Critically it’s been overshadowed by the playwright’s towering masterpiece, “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” to which it serves as a kind of coda. This production, in the hands of artists most devoted to O’Neill--Spacey, the shatteringly-talented and earthy actress Eve Best, and Howard Davies directing--is simply a triumph. These hours at Old Vic were among the shortest I’ve spent in the theater.
Josie Hogan (Best), a full-figured and “real” woman, with a quick tongue and ruined reputation, lives on a ramshackle Connecticut farm with her ducking-and-diving father Phil Hogan (played by the Irish film and theater star Colm Meaney).
They rent their patch, the only home Josie’s ever known, from Jim, a member of the disintegrating Tyrone family seen in “Long Day’s Journey.” A third-rate actor who long ago buried his dreams, Jim now evades his grief with bourbon at the local hotel and with his mad dashes toward the bright lights in New York.
This is a genre-shifting play, beginning as hard-working Josie takes her pleasure in slapstick pranks at the expense of a local millionaire, her own father, and their friend Jim, who hides his self-loathing under his own good-natured high-jinks. In a mortgage melodrama subplot, Josie’s father, fearing Jim will sell out their homestead, schemes to put one over on him. This plan is knocked sideways, when during Jim and Josie’s long night’s journey… of talking, drinking, and carnal wrestling, and delicate caressing… toward day, and something like love, he reveals to her a searing pain at being unable to love without destroying, as well as his humiliation over a betrayal of his dead mother. Josie has her own, more surprising secret that Jim had already perceived. As Josie and Jim begin reluctantly to expose to each other the terrible pain of living a constant lie, the play transforms during these mesmerizing performances into a display of raw emotion and naked humanity. Miraculously, as the morning dawns, O’Neill, writing with the lightest touch, draws these two back into their own skins, with an air of grace still lingering about the stage. The last words spoken by Spacey’s Jim, and the last words O’Neill was ever to write for the stage, reflect what each has allowed the other to give themselves: “forgiveness and peace.”
Two points might give theater-goers pause… first, the Irish accents of the Hogans, Josie and Phil; in fact, O’Neill had insisted in the play’s first production that Irish actors should play the roles of these characters who would have been recent immigrants. Second, the high-plains-inflected music of Dominic Muldowney, reminiscent of Ry Cooder, sounds very odd for the play’s New England setting.
A deep bow, nonetheless, toward Davies, whose Almeida production of O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh first brought Spacey to the London stage, and who directed Best in “Mourning Becomes Electra” at the National, winning her the 2003 Critic’s Circle Best Actor Award. Their performances are likely to be award-winning again.
Until December 23, Box office 0870 060 6628
- James Linville