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Commentary
by Margaret Loftus Ranald

This play has not been a favorite of either critics or playgoers because of its singularly static quality and also because of the difficulty in casting the central role. Josie Hogan is a woman of such unusual physical characteristics that any actress possessing them would probably have been advised against entering the theatrical profession, and as a result, audiences are forced into a mighty suspension of disbelief. In addition, the part of Jim Tyrone is exceedingly difficult to play. In its original production, which O'Neill worked on, he continually complained that the actor playing Jim was too coarse, unlike Jamie O'Neill, his original. Nonetheless, the part contains more grossness than gentility. In addition, the overall structure of the play does not fully mesh with the seriousness of its content. In essence, the situation is farcical, if not trite, with its attempt to trick the "lovers" into bed with each other, and O'Neill spends most of the play leading the audience to expect a sexual consummation but then turns expectations into disappointment with the denouement (hinted at through-out) that Josie really is a virgin, not the wanton woman of the neighborhood, a variation on the idea of the prostitute with a heart of gold.

 

Once again, O'Neill also shows his curious attitude toward the relationship between man and woman. As in The Great God Brown, Josie is the great earth-mother, a Cybel, but here a virgin believed to be a prostitute, which leads one also to a recollection of Dynamo and Henry Adams's essay, "The Virgin and the Dynamo." But in A Moon for the Misbegotten, Josie also shows some of the qualities of Nora Melody in A Touch of the Poet, in the way she celebrates the "pride" of her love and the self-abnegation with which she sees herself as the comforter of the afflicted, whether it be her brothers, her father, or James Tyrone, Jr. The play also has an important autobiographical significance, because Jim's account of his mother's death and his journey from California to New York is a recreation of Jamie O'Neill's own journey back with his mother's body. What O'Neill seems to be doing in this play is to exorcise his own guilt concerning his brother, as he had earlier done with his father in Long Day's Journey into Night, though that play was not produced until much later. But he seems never to have forgiven his mother for her dope addiction.

 

The original production of A Moon for the Misbegotten took place in Columbus, moving on to Pittsburgh, Detroit (where it was briefly closed for "obscenity"), and St. Louis, closing out of town, the only other O'Neill play to do so having been Chris Christophersen. A Moon achieved a modest run in New York in 1957 and reasonable runs in 1968 and 1973. It was published in book form in 1952, largely because the playwright needed the money. Two later revivals indicate that serious theatregoers are beginning to appreciate the essentially psychological action of the late O'Neill plays, with their intensity of emotion and familial feeling. The playwright seems to have gone beyond fashionable Freudian and Jungian interpretations and instead has come to depend on the integrity of his memory and the intensity of his emotions and familial feeling.

 

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