A Moon for the Misbegotten review
Design outshines performances in Eugene O’Neill’s swansong
Date Reviewed: March 16th, 2016
A Moon for the Misbegotten
Lyric Theatre, Belfast
Eugene O’Neill’s desolate swansong is a play of two halves and, in Ben Barnes’s stringently edited production for Theatre Royal Waterford, it has a cast of two halves, part Irish, part American. This saga of misbegotten lives unfolds against Joe Vanek’s stylised design concept, inspired by the bleached, other-worldly paintings of the American artist Andrew Wyeth.
The play is set in 1923 in a ramshackle holding in Connecticut, where Irish-American tenant farmer Phil Hogan (a sprightly Mark Lambert) settled and raised a family. Vanek renders the Hogan homestead as a scrubbed, smooth wooden shell, echoing O’Neill’s obsession with respectable outward appearance.
In the first act, Phil, his daughter Josie and their landlord Jim Tyrone curse and caper and carry on as though in a folksy Irish comedy. But each of them is playing a role. Phil’s devilish carousing and rough parenting have lost him his three sons, the youngest of whom, Mike (Cilian Jacob), takes off in the opening scene. Tough, outwardly promiscuous Josie (Kate Forbes) chooses to remain at home, implying that there is goodness lurking beneath her father’s sozzled exterior and insecure innocence beneath her reputation as the local whore. As a professional actor, Tyrone (Donald Sage Mackay) – a thinly disguised personification of the writer – is well used to putting on a face and conceals his shame for an unforgivable past act with relentless, self-destructive drinking and womanising.
Act 1 is marked by an odd sense of awkwardness and unease, with the characters almost appearing to belong to different plays. Michael Quinlan’s wealthy T Stedman Harder sails close to caricature, stiff backed, boggle eyed, resplendent in jodhpurs and polished boots. But as the moon rises on Josie and Jim’s choreographed assignation, the cloak of pretence disintegrates and the performances bed in.
Forbes transforms Josie from raunchy broad into handsome earth mother, cradling Mackay’s pale, needy Tyrone in the comfort of her ample breasts. When dawn breaks, Ann G Wrightson’s gentle lighting bathes this Pieta in a golden glow, with Tyrone sleeping the sleep of the dead and Josie destined to a celibate future. Behind them, the wooden walls part to reveal a mythical interior, at once a grotto and a womb. There are no happy endings, only the bleak spectre of three troubled souls eternally condemned to raw, unfulfilled resignation.
Touring to Geva Theatre Centre, Rochester, New York