A Moon for the Misbegotten is serious theater, made more palatable than most of Eugene O'Neill's works by a leavening of humor. In Rep Stage's production, the director, cast and crew have done the show proud.
O'Neill was the son of troubled parents, the victim of an attack of tuberculosis in his 20s and a lifelong sufferer from bad health.
Despite all this, he had a productive career in which he wrestled with his many psychological conflicts in a series of ground-breaking dramas that are highly regarded by theatrical scholars.
A Moon for the Misbegotten, which opens tomorrow, depicts an emotional triangle made up of Josie Hogan, her father, Phil Hogan (both are Irish-born and living in Connecticut) and James Tyrone Jr., a college-educated wastrel.
Central to play
Josie, a tall, strong woman, is the play's central character. Her father, a crafty, pugnacious tenant farmer, wants to maintain his control over her to keep her companionship and her free labor. With Josie's encouragement, her brother, Mike (played by Michael Coleman), leaves home to escape their father's domination. Josie will never do the same; she is very much like Phil and the affinity between them is too strong.
Meanwhile, Jim Tyrone, who inherited the Hogan farm from his father, is grappling with the demons of alcohol and guilt.
He had long struggled to stay off drink for his mother's sake; now he is convinced that his failure contributed to her death.
There is an attraction between Jim and Josie, which Phil encourages to make sure Jim doesn't evict him and sell the farm. He even urges Josie to seduce Jim, so he can blackmail the younger man into giving them the farm outright. Josie makes the attempt, but her feelings for Jim are sincere, and she offers him a warm, emotional and physical refuge.
Their night together - an emotional kaleidoscope of misunderstandings, deceptions, self-deceptions, schemes, lies, and resentments - is the heart of the play.
The enormously demanding role of Josie - warm and belligerent by turns, convinced of her own unattractiveness but still the strongest person in the play - is superbly played by Valerie E. Costantini. Fine performances are also given by Bill Hamlin and J. M. McDonough as Phil Hogan and Jim Tyrone, respectively.
Michael Stebbins' direction is right on target, but there is, unfortunately, one jarring scene. In Act I a rich, arrogant neighbor called T. Stedman Harder (John Benoit) comes to the farm with a complaint and is boisterously sent packing by Josie and her father. Although the scene is meant to be comic, Harder's reactions are wildly exaggerated, and the director has him falling about the stage like a silent film comedian.
It all seems out of key in a serious play.
Daniel Ettinger, the scenic designer, has given the Hogans a wonderfully convincing shack, complete with squeaking screen door. Josie's costumes, designed by Rosemary Pardee, have an authentic 1920s look.
Overall, A Moon for the Misbegotten, at Rep Stage, is an excellent production of an important American drama.
Rep Stage at Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, presents "A Moon for the Misbegotten" tomorrow through Nov. 18 in Theatre Outback. Show times are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays, with a Saturday matinee at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 17. Reservations: 410-772-4900, online at SeatAdvisor.com. Information: 410-772-4900, online at www.how ardcc.edu.