|Elise Hudson and Anthony Marble. Photo: Meredith Atkinson|
By Lauren Yarger
The plays of Eugene O' Neill bring the frailties of human relations and raw emotion to the surface and it's hard not to be moved. Playhouse on Park's production of A Moon for the Misbegotten is no exception.
The play is a follow-up to what is happening with Jamie Tyrone, Jr. (Anthony Marble), whom we met in O'Neill's Pulitzer-Prize winning drama Long Day's Journey into Night. He copes with his mother's death the way he deals with everything -- by drowning his sorrows in alcohol -- and pays a visit to drinking buddy Mike Hogan (Conan McCarthy), who is a tenant on the Tyrone-owned farm (the front porch of the property provides the set, designed by Emily Nichols). Harsh taskmaster Hogan already has run off three sons, including his youngest, Mike (Michael Hinton), who got away like the others did with the help of their hulking and unattractive sister, Josie (Elise Hudson).
Hogan isn't sure Jamie will honor a long-ago agreement to sell him the land he farms and fears the young man might do business instead with rich friend T. Stedman Harder (Thomas Royce Daniels), so Hogan convinces Josie that she should trap Jamie in a compromising position. The father will conveniently return at daybreak with witnesses and demand that Jamie marry his daughter.
Jamie and Josie bond, however, and the evening doesn't go as planned. Jamie, though drawn to Josie, deludes himself about pursuing an acting career in New York and tells her about trying to find his way through grief and sadness with a prostitute. Josie also may not have been telling the truth about herself. She has never really admitted that she loves Jamie. She has allowed the town to believe she has been loose with her virtue -- a difficult lie in 1923 -- but one that allows her to avoid the truth: no man wants her.
It's a touching evening of self loathing and loving and groping for a hand in the dark. It could be a bummer, but from the pen of Nobel Laureate O'Neill, we have one of the finest plays about the human capacity for love and generosity ever written.
While this is really Jamie's story, this production, directed by Joseph Discher, shines the moonlight on Josie. At first glance, Hudson appears miscast. She's too pretty and lithe to be the over-sized, unattractive Josie we expect, but her feisty, complex portrayal soon wins us over and has us rooting for her.
All of the performances are very good and keep us watching despite an almost three-hour run time with an intermission (the first act seemed very long). Hudson and McCarthy have an excellent rapport on stage and it's easy to see that through the insult-riddled banter between father and daughter, there's real affection beneath the dirty and dusty surface (costumes designed by Collette Benoit). She grows softer when interacting with Jamie (played with aching sadness by Marble).
One pet peeve: herbal cigarettes and a pipe are used. We really don't need them lighted in small theater spaces. The props themselves suffice unless actual smoke is called for in the plot.
A Moon for the Misbegotten plays though March 5 at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford. Tickets are $30-$40: 860-523-5900 x10; www.playhouseonpark.org.