April 15, 2007

A Misbegotten "Moon for the Misbegotten"

As anyone who has ever been in love can attest, there is little use in trying to explain why you fall for someone. I fell for Eugene O’Neill in my teens when I stumbled across a magazine article about him. His tortured genius was pure catnip for the would-be aesthete in me, enraptured by the romantic notion of suffering for one’s art. Reading Arthur and Barbara Gelb’s masterly biography, “O’Neill,” the following summer deepened my passion. And by the time I saw Jason Robards, Jr. in his return performance as Hickey in the 1985 production of The Iceman Cometh I was totally hooked. I have stayed in love with O’Neill over the years, despite the criticisms that his plays are too sentimental, too depressing, too long. So there was no question that I was going to see the latest revival of A Moon for the Misbegotten starring Kevin Spacey and the Olivier Award-winning British actress Eve Best.

Spacey seems to be in love with O’Neill too. He has previously appeared to critical acclaim in Broadway productions of Long Day’s Journey Into Night and Iceman. But this time, I fear, he has done our man wrong. Spacey and director Howard Davies have made the misguided decision to go heavy on the humor in Moon for the Misbegotten. Even the always inventive—and this season, with four new Broadway shows, ubiquitous—set designer Bob Crowley has contributed a slightly cartoonish set. Best gives a lovely performance (click here to see a bit of it) as Josie Hogan, the awkward farm woman who loves the dissipated Jamie Tyrone, the fictional stand-in for O’Neill’s older brother, but the actress is a lithe and handsome woman, too refined for the misfit that O’Neill envisioned Josie to be.

The audience the night I was there seemed to love all of it. But I found myself wistful for Gabriel Byrne’s anguished portrayal of Jamie in 2000. And for the umpteenth time, I lamented not having seen the legendary 1973 production with Robards and Colleen Dewhurst. The Broadway Theater Archive has released a DVD of it that’s available on Amazon.com and I almost ordered it when I got home. But the magic of the theater for me is the immediacy of the moment, the literal you-had-to-be-there experience shared only by you and the few hundred other people in the theater at the time. Unfortunately for me, the signal memory of my evening at the Brooks Atkinson Theater was when a cell phone went off during a quiet moment in the second act. It rang and rang and rang until Best improvised the words “there’s a cell phone ringing” into her next line of dialog. The audience laughed and applauded her quick wittedness; Best and Spacey briefly broke character with little smiles of acknowledgement before going on with the scene. It was deftly done and in keeping with the let-us-entertain-you nature of the production but it wasn’t the O’Neill that I love.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

The DVD is terrific. Folks should give it a look.

harvardj said...

As an O'Neill fan who doesn't live in New York, I had been thinking about traveling to see this play. Thanks for setting me straight...I'll get the DVD instead. Your blog is really useful for those of us who live close but not that close in terms of making decisions. Often, theatre reviews (like in the Times) are couched in terms of the many plays one has already seen. I find your reviews more accessible.

michael samachson said...

I haven't seen Kevin Spacey in Moon for the Misbegotten, but as one who has seen Jason Robards in everything from Iceman Cometh to Hughie, and Long Day's Journey, I appreciate his take. Robards seems the quintessential O'Neill everyman. In the 1970's Robards came to Lake Forest which had the Academy Festival Theatre at the defunct Barat College. He performed Hughie there. He was marvelous. In the early 1970's others who came to the Festival, were Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine, Lynn Regrave, Irene Worth and Raul Julia, Christopher Walken, John Guare, and many more.

I love Eugene O'Neill's works, and saw "Strange Interlude" in NYC in New York City with Ben Gazzara and Geraldine Page, and "Ah, Wilderness," with Richard Kiley in Chicago. I heard that Eve Best was the main reason to see this "Moon."

Andrea said...

I was struck by your comment on the unnecessary heavy humor in "Moon for the Misbegotten." It disappointed me to find the similar urge to include some supposedly funny or "cute" remarks in "The Year of Magical Thinking," clearly meant to lighten the play and evoke giggles -- which they did. What a loss that was.

Hopeful Cynic said...

I've avoided seeing this "Moon," because I prefer to remember the play from the glorious Robards/Dewhurst production. I made the mistake of seeing the Byrne-Jones revival, and I was underwhelmed: I thought Byrne wishy-washy, and Jones miscast (too vanilla, too midwest). There are some experiences that are best left unsullied, I think.

Anonymous said...

broadwayandme.blogspot.com; You saved my day again.