Many people were surprised when the Nobel Prize for literature was given to Bob Dylan for his outspoken and poetic songs highlighting the need for social change. The 1936 winner, American playwright Eugene O’Neill, also gave voice to those living on the edge of society, which is illustrated in his grandly tragic “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” currently at The Eventide Theater Company.
“A Moon for the Misbegotten” opened in 1947. It’s a continuation of the playwright’s story about his self-destructive character James Tyronne, from “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” which is based on O’Neill’s alcoholic brother. A drama ahead of its time, it took decades before “Moon” was recognized as an American classic, but its storyline no longer shocks as it once did.
First impressions are important, but they can also be deceiving, as is the case with the play’s doomed personas. In the weighty, realistic style of Henrik Ibsen and Anton Chekhov, O’Neill fully unveils the true nature of each character under the forgiving light of the moon.
Set in 1923 on a plot of land on the Tyronne’s Connecticut estate, there is no doubt Josie Hogan (Janet Geist-Moore) is a force to be reckoned with. Using rapid-fire insults as a propellant, she insists it’s time for her “pious” brother Mike (Ricky Bourgeoius) to flee their dead-end sharecropper-like life. Readying herself for her father’s wrath, Josie grabs a makeshift club. Shockingly calling his daughter a “slut,” her father, Phil Hogan (John Williams), is filled with vim and vigor as he rants about the stage.
As the energy simmers and shifts, it becomes apparent the two enjoy each other’s company, and seem to be proud of their indecent reputations: he a tight-wad drunk and she a “wanton woman.”
Afterwards, the Hogans are visited by their soon-to-be landlord, the gentrified yet downtrodden Jim Tyronne (Jody O’Neil). It’s clear Jim has feelings for Josie, even as she insists he prefers Broadway’s “pretty little tarts,” over her strong, broad body. While the alcohol flows between Phil and Jim and tensions mount, it becomes uncertain if Jim will honor his promise to let the Hogans buy the pitiful farm.
Directed by Steve Reynolds and running close to three hours, the play’s length and intensity is demanding for both audience and cast, but the actors manage it with aplomb. Geist-Moore is fabulous, showing her broad range, softening Josie’s hard exterior under the redemptive light of the moon.
As Jim, O’Neil drunkenly teeters about, quickly shifting from romantic poet to condemned alcoholic. He and Geist-Moore naturally share an intense scene, as their characters desperately bare their souls, under the glow of the full moon, hopeful true love can conquer all.
Williams is endearing as Phil, playing the over-bearing father while letting his loving nature shine through to prove his bark has no bite.
Doubling as the pretentious neighbor, Bourgeoius helps to lighten the mood as both father and daughter comically run him off the property.
Richard Neal’s set design of the dilapidated homestead with the unleveled porch angled precariously toward the audience is suggestive of the unbalanced nature of the characters’ lives. Judy Chesley’s costumes are perfect extensions of each character’s station in life.
A Bostonian, Eugene O’Neill was no stranger to the Cape, testing out many of his plays with the Provincetown Players. “A Moon for the Misbegotten” is not often produced, and it feels fitting to have his last completed play performed on the Cape. Eventide’s production is at once raw and moving, with a touch of levity.
“A Moon for the Misbegotten”
At The Eventide Theater Company, 713 Route 6A, Dennis
Through Nov. 6
Information and reservations: 508-398-8588