Rep Stage tackles O'Neill's `Moon'

Scheme: The American playwright, known for his heavy drama, found room for humor in this story of family relationships


October 25, 2001|By Arthur Laupus | Arthur Laupus,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Ever wish that you could gather all your conflicts, repressed sexual longings, neurotic tendencies, ambivalent feelings and obsessive-compulsive habits, write about them in the form of a successful play or movie, become a celebrity, win literary prizes and make a heck of a lot of money?

Perhaps the best example of a playwright who examined his life and familial relationships with the psycho-therapeutic pen is Eugene O'Neill.

Born of a morphine-addicted mother and embittered alcoholic father, O'Neill turned to his older brother Jamie for support and advice. Jamie, in turn, taught young Eugene how to drink, cavort with prostitutes and get the better of his father. With these less than desirable elements implanted in his psyche, Eugene O'Neill wrote many autobiographical and semi-autobiographical plays and won four Pulitzer Prizes, as well as the only Nobel Prize for American drama.

Rep Stage, the professional equity theater-in-residence at Howard Community College, will present Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten, beginning tomorrow, at HCC's Theatre Outback.

First produced on Broadway in 1957 after O'Neill's death, A Moon for the Misbegotten explores the relationship between Jamie Tyrone (read Jamie O'Neill) and Josie Hogan (an amalgam of Ella O'Neill, mother of Jamie and Eugene, and one of Eugene's early lovers).

In the play, Jamie Tyrone is the son of the owner of a small farm on rather barren, rocky land occupied by Irish tenant farmer and widower Phil Hogan and his unmarried daughter, Josie. Fearing the farm is about to be sold to his despised, wealthy Yankee neighbor, T. Steadman Harder, Hogan persuades his daughter to seduce Tyrone so he will be forced to marry her and the farm will be theirs.

The script centers on Josie Hogan, an earth mother capable of giving unconditional love, and her relationship with the dissolute Jamie Tyrone, haunted by his shortcomings and dark family secrets.

Directing A Moon for the Misbegotten is Michael Stebbins, who also directed The Cemetery Club and several operas for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Stebbins is well aware that many theatergoers who are not familiar with O'Neill mistakenly think that his plays are the stuff of heavy tragedy.

"O'Neill has a great sense of humor, even though he's been so closely attached to tragedy," Stebbins said. "Those familiar with the play know that the third act is tragic, but surrounding it is beauty, poetry and a lot of comedy with wonderful comic characters."

O'Neill called the play "tragic-comic" because he often found these seemingly opposing elements fused together and difficult to separate.

"But when he got to his later plays like Moon ... even though people aren't wearing actual masks, the story of the play is so much about putting on masks, playing games and scheming," Stebbins said.

Playing Josie Hogan is Rep Stage's producer and artistic director Valerie Costantini, whose previous appearances at Rep Stage include Three Tall Women, Dangerous Liaisons and Six Degrees of Separation.

Jamie Tyrone will be portrayed by J.M. McDonough, who has appeared in Rep Stage productions of The Philadelphia Story and Frankie and Johnny in the Claire De Lune. Rounding out the cast are Bill Hamlin as Phil Hogan, Michael Coleman as Mike Hogan and John Benoit as T. Steadman Harder.

"A Moon for the Misbegotten" will run tomorrow through Nov. 18 at Theatre Outback, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway. Show times are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. A Saturday matinee will be presented at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 17. Reservations: 410-772-4900. Tickets can also be purchased online at Information: the Rep Stage Web site, www.

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