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Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. VI, No. 1
Spring, 1982



4. "Miss Moonbegotten." A Moon for the Misbegotten, dir. David George. Barton Square Playhouse, Salem MA, February 26 - April 3, 1982.

As performed by the Barton Square Players during their inaugural season, A Moon for the Misbegotten was a surprising affirmation of O'Neill's ability to write boisterously comic dialogue, since the production seemed to stress the play's lightheartedness and frivolity. The despair that underpins so much of O'Neill's work, Moon included, was overwhelmed in a bucolic effervescence, and the jovial "Irishness" of the characters overcame the gathering penumbras of the latter part of the play.

The performance opened with distant echoes of pipe-like music--an effectively atmospheric lead-in. The set, designed by Ted Lamoreux, while impressionistic, featured a worthy structure whose rough boards and uneven planks were realistic enough to evoke the deteriorating shack that is the Hogans' farmhouse, while also offering a metaphor for the substantial but evasive relationship of its major inhabitants. David Fenn's lighting was fine--especially the moon-light and the blue-to-amber arrival of dawn--and David George's direction was thorough and largely effective.

There was, in addition, one massive timber that supported the entire production--the Josie of Judith Black, whose bravura dominated the entire evening. While Miss Black is far from the "oversized ... freak" that O'Neill describes, her dynamic power, both emotional and spiritual, overwhelmed the men in the cast. Her Josie, despite a tragic air about her, had a lilting quality that inspired sympathy, respect and admiration.

Judith Black (Josie), Robert Burke (Harder) and Michael McNamara (Phil) in Barton Square's Moon for the Misbegotten. (Photo by John Fogle)

Michael McNamara's Hogan was a witching piece of wide-eyed deviltry with a heart so volatile that, when it leaped up, it seemed to pull his whole body up with it. Despite a wavering brogue (surprising that a Black should out-brogue a McNamara!), he sustained the twisted, gleeful soul of Phil Hogan with an appropriate mixture of warmth, bitterness and despair. The minor roles were generally well handled. Robert Burke added a note of feline imperiousness to the part of T. Stedman Harder, and Stephen Sena was effectively self-righteous in his brief turn as Mike Hogan.

However, the production did have one rather serious flaw: Kerry Brown's performance as Jim Tyrone. From the moment of his entrance through the audience, like a piece of sea-rejected flotsam wind-blown across a desolate beach, he appeared so washed-out and drained that there seemed nothing left to be wrung out of him, no lower depth that he could sink to. He stared determinedly at the ground--too broken, evidently, to face either his fellow players or the audience. And his most prominent gesture was the continual rubbing of his brow, a device he used so frequently that one began to wonder if he were planting seeds in its furrows. Because of Brown's playing, the performance failed to realize the script's potential as a wrenching drama of two tortured souls whose moonlit rendezvous is transformed, through Jim's confession, into a rite of contrition. (Hence the aforementioned lightness of even the later, more somber moments.) What emerged in its place was, essentially, a reworking of the play--and an interesting and revelatory one at that. The emphasis--the play's center of gravity--shifted to the relationship of Father and Daughter, between whom there was an exacting rapport. Josie and Phil formed a center that, like their house, could hold as things around them fell apart.

Which, though it is not fully true to the text, is not at all inappropriate. If we lose the impact and tragic implications of Jim's confessional speech, we gain a sense of hope--an image of human dignity's survival in the face of spiritual destruction. For this new intimation, the Barton Square actors and director must be commended. May their new playhouse flourish, and may they bring us many more O'Neill productions in the seasons ahead.

--Thomas F. Connolly



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