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Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. X, No. 1
Spring, 1986


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LETTER TO THE EDITOR

February 19, 1986

My admiration for Jordan Y. Miller knows no bounds, and I agree with much of what he says in praise of Judith Barlow's Final Acts: The Creation of Three Late O'Neill Plays (review in Winter 1985 issue). But I must take exception to both Miller and Barlow in their view of A Moon for the Misbegotten as a "flawed masterpiece." I have not been able to perceive the flaws.

Barlow objects to the emphasis given Phil Hogan's intrigues in a work which ultimately concentrates on the pathos of confession and the miracle of forgiveness. Phil's intrigues are no flaw. Nor do they make the play "tedious," if they are understood in the light of O'Neill's consummate artistry. I explore the relationship between Phil's intrigues and the Jim-Josie action in my article "O'Neill's Transcendence of Melodrama in A Touch of the Poet and A Moon for the Misbegotten" (Comparative Drama [Fall 1982], 238-250). By juxtaposing two such diametrically opposed moods and types of dramatic action, O'Neill is commenting on the whole history of drama's popularity, including the popularity of his own earlier drama. He teases and entices his audience with Phil's antics--the humiliation of the "Standard Oil millionaire" and the plot to trap Jim Tyrone into marriage--before he lets the play give way to the gargantuan outpouring of feeling by the lovers. In doing so, O'Neill is in effect saying to his audience: "What you come to the theatre for is not what theatre is really about. You come to be entertained and mystified by the engaging superficialities of comic and serious melodrama. What you should be coming for is what the Greek tragedians and Shakespeare provided so well--a wrenching of your innermost feelings and a severe challenge to you lives' meanings, and to life's meaning."

Phil Hogan's come-on traps the audience into thinking it will not have to feel anything, that it will only be entertained. But as the action unfolds, that audience is made to feel very deeply indeed, as the audiences of Oedipus and Lear were made to feel. The early portions of the long Jim-Josie exchange--in which Josie is thinking about trapping Jim while Jim is trying to find the courage to confess--are a brilliant transition between one (fascinating but trivial) kind of drama and another (painful but all-important) kind of drama.

Sincerely,
Michael Manheim
Univ. of Toledo

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