It’s a special night for the Banyan’s A Moon for the Misbegotten.
By Kay Kipling
There’s no doubt that A Moon for the Misbegotten is one of Eugene O’Neill’s most beautifully written—and heartbreaking—plays. There’s also little doubt that it provides a formidable acting challenge for those playing in this partly autobiographical story about O’Neill’s alcoholic brother, a woman who might be able to save him, and that woman’s conniving but charming tenant farmer father.
It’s been some time since there’s been a local production of Moon, so the Banyan Theater Company’s presentation (directed by Gil Lazier in a sort of parting gesture before he moves to New Mexico) is a welcome one. Lazier has looked into the hearts and minds of these characters with his usual empathy (perhaps channeling a little of the spirit of the late, great director Jose Quintero, who helmed the landmark Broadway production of the play and spent his last years in Sarasota), and he’s aided in setting the right tone by Jeffrey W. Dean’s design of the New England farmhouse and James A. Florek’s lighting, so crucial to providing the right moonlit spirit for one special night.
Robert M. Hefley and Jessica K. Peterson in the Banyan’s A Moon for the Misbegotten.
That night belongs to Josie Hogan (Jessica K. Peterson), a seemingly boisterous, tough woman who’s grown up fighting—and loving—her hard-living father Phil (Steven Clark Pachosa) while sending her brothers off into the larger world. She also feels a love for James Tyrone Jr. (Robert M. Hefley), the Hogans’ landlord (based on O’Neill’s older brother, who basically drank himself to death). Tyrone, a failed actor given to spouting grandiloquent lines from plays and spending his night boozing with and bedding tarts, likewise feels a strong affection for Josie, but the burden of guilt and sorrow he bears makes it unlikely he can ever find true happiness with anyone.
The first act sets up the play’s plot, which revolves around whether or not landlord Jim will be selling the Hogan land out from under them in order to grab enough quick money to hightail it back to New York, or whether he’ll keep his word to sell it only to them. As the evening wears on, and as both Phil and Jim swill down a boatload of whiskey, the question also becomes: Is there any hope for Josie and Jim to share their love and their lives?
If you know O’Neill, you probably know the answer to that. But Moon offers some of the playwright’s most touching and tenderly written scenes along the way, so you take nothing for granted. Although not physically such a mannishly large being as O’Neill describes Josie, Peterson is certainly a strong presence, and she’s capable of eloquently making the transitions between her bravura moments and her most vulnerable states, as she tries to help the haunted Tyrone. As Phil, a role that nearly allows an actor to steal the two leads’ thunder, Pachosa is always entertaining and vivid, with a natural gift for delivering O’Neill’s colorful Irish dialogue.
Hefley, who did good work in an earlier Banyan production of The Unexpected Man last season, seems miscast to some extent as Tyrone—a bit too mature, perhaps, and at times too stiff or actorish in his performance. He never quite successfully plumbs the full depths of Jim’s self-loathing, and the relationship between him and Josie doesn’t feel as developed as we might like. But Moon is so well-written and directed, with such a winning performance by Peterson, that it can’t fail to reach us anyway.
A Moon for the Misbegotten continues through July 12 in the Banyan production on the Asolo’s Cook stage; for tickets call 552-1032 or visit www.banyantheatercompany.com.