Down on the Farm

Review of A Moon for the Misbegotten, Playhouse on Park

Eugene O’Neill’s late play, A Moon for the Misbegotten features comedy, poetry, strong characters able to speak their minds as well as dissemble, and O’Neill’s characteristic effort to plumb the psychology of the defeated and despairing, or “misbegotten.” The play presents a wonderfully complex use of plots and feints and bluffs, of long-standing grievance and hard grief, of friendship and filial affection, and, through it all, an unerring sense of its characters’ truths. And, of course, booze.

While not a comedy, the play ends on an upbeat, with a resonant sense of forgiveness. The path to that moment is tangled and, at times, dark, but the Playhouse on Park production, directed by Joseph Discher, keeps us in the light, whether of the full moon two would-be lovers—Josie Hogan (Elise Hudson) and James Tyrone, Jr. (Anthony Marble)—gaze into, or the rising dawn of a new day at the play’s close.

Set in Connecticut in 1923, the play offers Phil Hogan (Conan McCarty), a down-at-heels farmer, a mini-tyrant whose sons leave him and the unforgiving tenant farm he works. Mike (Michael Hinton), the youngest of the three, is stealing away as the play opens, abetted by his bossy sister Josie. Mike has hopes of the priesthood and tries to reform Josie from her wayward ways. Their exchange establishes Josie as the woman in possession, the only member of the family able to handle their demanding father and so she remains behind. It also establishes her as a woman with no patience for the Church nor for virtuous modesty.

 Phil Hogan (Conan McCarty), Josie Hogan (Elise Hudson) (photo: Meredith Atkinson)

Phil Hogan (Conan McCarty), Josie Hogan (Elise Hudson) (photo: Meredith Atkinson)

Phil Hogen and his daughter Josie make a lively pair. As played by Conan McCarty, Phil is a likeable lover of blarney, always ready to bemoan his lot or badger an enemy—which includes his, in his view, no-account sons. He spars with Josie constantly, but there’s no mistaking his admiration for her strong will and no-nonsense grasp of situations. Elise Hudson’s Josie, while not nearly as roughly favored as the part calls for, is tall and imposing and thoroughly believable as a daughter who could give her aging father a thrashing as well as a tongue-lashing. Her well-sustained brogue makes music of her every utterance.

The rough spot in the show is Anthony Marble’s James Tyrone, Jr. Certainly possessed of the kind of looks that make us believe Tyrone works on the stage, Marble captures Tyrone's hammy self-importance, but doesn’t quite conjure the haunted regions of Tyrone’s heart. His best part is the lengthy confession to Josie, in a Pietà-like configuration in Act Three, that makes us take the measure of his disgust with himself and his need for love. Marble registers Tyrone’s charm and his alcoholism, but, in this short run, hasn't yet found the resources of bitterness the part calls for.

 Josie Hogan (Elise Hudson), James Tyrone, Jr. (Anthony Marble) (photo: Joel Abbott)

Josie Hogan (Elise Hudson), James Tyrone, Jr. (Anthony Marble) (photo: Joel Abbott)

It should be said that these are Irish Catholics and a definite sense of sin and redemption is fully woven by O’Neill into his characters. Josie, in this context, has to go from Magdalen to Madonna, and Hudson manages to do so without ever losing sight of the simple country girl trying to stand by her man—which includes, finally, the failings of her father. Phil Hogan’s schemes, while meaning well, have the potential to go far awry and that’s the tension that hangs over this long day’s journey from a September noon to the following dawn.

Emily Nichols’ scenic design provides a realized space for the action, with a porch that commands a dirty yard, complete with serviceable large boulder, and a makeshift bedroom for Josie on the side of the house. Lighting by Christopher Bell makes for a very bright moon during the nighttime hours, but with nice soft undertones that eventually give way to tentative dawn. Joel Abbott’s sound design adds touches of birdsong to the morning after and, since the real star of an O’Neill play is the language, ensures that voices, even at their most conversational, are clear. Joseph Discher’s direction uses the space well with movement and physicality, such as Josie and Phil’s manhandling of T. Stedman Harder (Thomas Royce Daniels), a smug rival for the land.

A Moon for the Misbegotten is alive with a family dynamic that makes the Hogans seem heroic in their staunch appeal, in the end, to their own better natures. The play’s fatalism, in avoiding a happier ending, keeps within the dimension of reality, as opposed to romance. And yet O’Neill is a major figure in the view that the stage is where the heart unburdens itself for the sake of fellow feeling, even if that ultimately changes nothing.

 

A Moon for the Misbegotten
By Eugene O’Neill
Directed by Joseph Discher

Scenic Designer: Emily Nichols; Costume Designer: Collette Benoit; Sound Designer: Joel Abbott; Lighting Designer: Christopher Bell; Properties: Pamela Lang; Stage Manager: Corin Killins

Cast: Thomas Royce Daniels, Michael Hinton, Elise Hudson, Anthony Marble, Conan McCarty

 

Playhouse on Park
February 15-March 5, 2017