Although it was as royally received as was Long Day’s Journey into Night before it, and was as lavishly awarded, A Moon for the Misbegotten is rarely staged these days. A full decade of theater in the Triangle has allowed this work to go unproduced; but that long time of absence is now over. Deep Dish Theater Company of Chapel Hill is now showing this two-act, three-hour play, directed by Tony Lea and starring, as the central trio, Deep Dish managing director John Allore; Tom Marriott; and, in a return to the stage after a five-year hiatus from both the boards and the Triangle, Helen Hagan.
The setting for Moon is a scrabbler’s tenement farm in 1923, owned by actor and son-of-actor James Tyrone Jr. (Allore). It is well into the autumn and the leaves have left the trees; and the three people who “rent” this farm are all hard at work as the lights come up. Josie Hogan (Hagan), the only one in view, is cleaning the porch; the men, her father Philip Hogan (Marriott) and her younger brother Mike (Alex Wilson), are tending the hogs, offstage. But no sooner are the lights up than Mike swoops round the corner of the house, carrying a pitchfork and calling for his sister. For her part, Josie, upon seeing her brother, quietly goes inside and returns with a coat and a valise. Mike quickly changes his shoes while the two discuss his imminent departure. He is going the way of both his older brothers, who also left unannounced to escape the toil of this sad little farm. Josie sends him off with a small sum from Daddy’s stash and her blessing.
There is but one other character in Moon, the Hogans’ next-door neighbor, T. Steadman Harder (Jeffrey E. Petrusa), whose “estate” borders on Tyrone land right where the Hogans have their farm. He appears briefly to play the fool and the bad guy near the end of Act I. He is highly disdainful of the Hogans, poor as they are, and would buy the property from Tyrone, if indeed Tyrone was of a mind to sell. But Tyrone has already promised to sell the farm to Phil Hogan at a price already agreed upon, and Phil keeps James to his promise by his usual means of sucking up and kidding around. James likes Phil, who was a friend of his father’s, and rarely even bothers to collect what little rent the farm must be worth, enjoying more the opportunity to watch Phil wriggle out of it than the benefit of whatever funds he might receive. But Harder’s appearance at the Hogan farm causes both Phil and Josie to mistreat him terribly; and, with an ego highly bruised, Harder is now more intent than ever to get that land and, if not become the Hogans’ landlord, run them off the property altogether.
Act I is a full 90 minutes long, and it belongs to Phil. Act II belongs to James. But the play belongs to Josie, the daughter of this man who is both a scoundrel and a kind heart, and a woman of big heart, and big appetites as well. Phil and Josie spend many a conversation remembering their, his, and her exploits. Phil is not ignorant of the fact that Josie would, if asked, readily go with James. But she is certain that he would never ask. But Phil knows James better than does Josie, and is not ignorant of the fact that James has feelings for Josie, as well. We learn of the woman Josie is from both her own and Phil’s words; but we hear of the woman she might be only from James. Josie is fully capable of being either one. And this trio of actors plays these characters so well that we begin to wonder. James has a secret. Phil has a secret. Josie will learn of them both soon enough; but we, who are a bit more informed, begin to wonder exactly who is fooling whom. As it turns out, at least until the very end, everyone is fooling somebody. They are all fooling themselves.
Marriott plays Hogan wonderfully as a campy, crafty, crabby old Irishman whose cleverness has kept his head just barely above water all his life. He also has that terrible Irish temper which he has passed on to his daughter. But his last act of clever planning has nothing to do with his own happiness.
Allore plays Tyrone as a man whose secrets make it terribly difficult to live with himself. That is the reason for his constant state of inebriation. Allore handles his drunken state well, almost as well as his compatriots handle their Irish accents. Act II makes all clear, mostly because Allore’s James confesses both his love and his secrets to Josie, who in turn confesses her love for him. Josie also learns that Phil has set her up, because while James did indeed tell Harder’s groom that he would sell, he and Phil both know it is only a joke on their nasty neighbor. In a tremendously well-written and superbly acted scene, both James and Josie learn of their own love and that it is destiny that that love will not ever come to fruition. Josie gives freely the only thing that can save James; and thankfully, he remembers well enough to thank her for it once the moon, and the night, have passed.
This play, in all its complicated back and forth, is probably the closest thing to a comedy that O’Neill has ever written. It is wonderfully funny, poignant, and despite the rift of lovers involved, it has one of the happiest endings O’Neill has penned. And this cast and Deep Dish does the play wonderfully proud. It is a play not to be missed, even in this month of so many plays to be seen. It is a pleasure to see Helen Hagan back onstage, and this cast makes A Moon for the Misbegotten one of the best shows to grace the Triangle in the 2004-05 season.
Deep Dish Theater Company presents A Moon for the Misbegotten Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 17-19 and 24-26, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Feb. 20 and 27, at 3 p.m.; Wednesday, March 2, at 7:30 p.m.; and Thursday-Saturday, March 3-5, at 8 p.m. in the space between the Print Shop and Hungates — and across from Waldenbooks — at the Dillard’s end of University Mall, at the intersection of Estes Drive and U.S. 15-501, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. $14 ($10 students and $12 seniors aged 60 and above), except “Cheap Dish Night,” Feb. 17, when all tickets are $5. 919/968-1515. Note 1: Following the show’s 3 p.m. Feb. 20 performance, there will be a post-play discussion led by Karen Blansfield of the UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Dramatic Art and including the actors and director. ... Deep Dish Theater Company: http://www.deepdishtheater.org/Moon.html [inactive 7/05]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/Show.asp?id=1207. Play Text (via eOneill.com): http://www.eoneill.com/texts/misbegotten/contents.htm [inactive 12/05]. eOneill.com Study Guide: http://www.eoneill.com/companion/misbegotten/index.htm [inactive 10/09].
Triangle theatergoers owe Deep Dish Theater Company thanks for staging A Moon for the Misbegotten by Nobel laureate and four-time Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner Eugene Gladstone O’Neill (1888-1953) Feb. 10-March 5 in its storefront theater in Chapel Hill, NC’s University Mall. O’Neill is one of the internationally renowned masters of Modern Drama; but his visceral, often intensely autobiographical plays are seldom produced hereabouts these days.
By 1936, when Eugene O’Neill became the first American dramatist to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, the son of immensely popular 19th-century actor James O’Neill had already won three Pulitzer Prizes — for Beyond the Horizon(1920), Anna Christie (1922), and Strange Interlude (1928). He later won a fourth Pulitzer for Long Day’s Journey into Night (1957).
In a eOneill.com study guide, Virginia Floyd claims, “A Moon for the Misbegotten, O’Neill’s brutally honest but loving remembrance of his brother, Jamie, is a continuation of the memory play Long Day’s Journey into Night. Set over a decade later, in September 1923, two months before the brother’s actual death, the play is a requiem for Jamie, called here Jim Tyrone.… A Moon for the Misbegotten is a joyous tribute to the regenerative power of love, a drama conceived and created in deep affection.”
A Moon for the Misbegotten did not make its Broadway debut at the Bijou Theatre until May 2, 1957 — three and a half years after O’Neill’s death. The play closed on June 29, 1957 after 68 performances and received one 1958 Tony Award® nomination — for Wendy Hiller as Best Actress in a Play for her performance as Josie Hogan.
Guest director Tony Lea, who previously staged the Deep Dish productions of A Game of Love and Chance and Holiday, will direct A Moon for the Misbegotten, which follows three lost souls from noon on one early September day through sunrise of the following day. The show stars Tom Marriott and Helen Hagan as Irish immigrant pig farmer Phil Hogan and his strapping, six-foot daughter Josie and John Allore as their handsome, hard-drinking landlord actor James Tyrone, Jr., for whom Josie secretly carries a torch. Jeffrey Petrusha and Alex Wilson are also in the cast.
The show’s creative team includes set designer Lien Van der Linde, lighting designer Steve Tell, costume designer Annika Pfaender, and props mistress Devra Thomas. Kit Wienert will compose original music for the show.
In the eOneill.com study guide for this play, Louis Sheaffer writes: “In Long Day’s Journey into Night, O’Neill gave what he considered the essential portraits of himself and the others of his family — his mother, father, and brother. But after completing the work, he apparently was nagged so by the feeling that he had been unjust to his brother that he wrote A Moon for the Misbegotten. Though the latter play can stand alone, it is more effective, more poignant when viewed as a fifth act to the four-act Long Day’s Journey. Set in 1923, more than ten years after the action of the family portrait, Moon for the Misbegottendraws a deeply compassionate picture of Jamie as it tells of his sad final days.”
Sheaffer adds, “Moon for the Misbegotten is both one of the most Irish of O’Neill’s plays, in its mixture of lusty humor and bone-deep sadness, and among his most universal works in its dramatization of man’s isolation. As the two unhappy souls, Tyrone and Josie, struggle to make contact in the moonlight, the play builds to an emotional power, a feeling of naked reality, that O’Neill alone in the American theater could attain.”
Deep Dish Theater Company presents A Moon for the Misbegotten Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 10-12 and 17-19, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Feb. 13 and 20, at 3 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 24-26, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Feb. 27, at 3 p.m.; Wednesday, March 2, at 7:30 p.m.; and Thursday-Saturday, March 3-5, at 8 p.m. in the space between the Print Shop and Hungates — and across from Waldenbooks — at the Dillard’s end of University Mall, at the intersection of Estes Drive and U.S. 15-501, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. $14 ($10 students and $12 seniors aged 60 and above), except “Cheap Dish Night,” Feb. 17, when all tickets are $5. 919/968-1515. Note 1: There will be a “Meet the Designers” discussion following the show’s 3 p.m. Feb. 13 performance. Note 2: Following the show’s 3 p.m. Feb. 20 performance, there will be a post-play discussion led by Karen Blansfield of the UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Dramatic Art and including the actors and director. ... Deep Dish Theater Company: http://www.deepdishtheater.org/Moon.html [inactive 7/05]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/Show.asp?id=1207. Play Text (via eOneill.com): http://www.eoneill.com/texts/misbegotten/contents.htm [inactive 12/05]. eOneill.com Study Guide: http://www.eoneill.com/companion/misbegotten/index.htm [inactive 10/09].