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Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. VII, No. 3
Winter, 1983


(IN THIS ISSUE)

REVIEWS OF O'NEILL PLAYS IN PERFORMANCE

1. A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN, directed by David Leveaux. Riverside Studios, London, June - July, 1983. (Later moved to the Mermaid Theatre for a run through November.)

Frances de la Tour, a tall, gawky woman who has generally been stuck with comic roles, proved again (for those who didn't already know) what a powerful and sensitive serious actress she is by turning herself into O'Neill's earth mother Josie for what was, amazingly, the first London production of A Moon for the Misbegotten. Josie's gruffness and bawdy humor are relatively easy to play, and within the range of many actresses; where de la Tour broke new ground was in letting us see, long before the character wanted to admit it, how vulnerable and desperately in love--or, rather, how desperately in need to be allowed to love--she was. Her natural nasality and the drawn-out vowels in her dialect were made a part of the character, giving every speech a sound of longing that was neither sigh nor whine but hinted at both. Even in the strikingly comic squabbling with her father (Alan Devlin) that dominates the first act there were hints of the pain and the sacrifice to come; the sight of her tensely awaiting Tyrone's arrival for their date was a tableau of intense pathos; and in the poetry of the night and the morning after, she made us believe and share her brief fantasy of love and her quiet triumph in being strong enough to carry on when hope was gone. Only two things kept this performance from truly mythic stature: minor problems with an accent that came and went; and the difficulty of playing in an emotional vacuum, for this deep and sensitive Josie was virtually checkmated by the shallow and empty Jim Tyrone of Ian Bannen.

Bannen, who has played all the Jason Robards roles in England, was allowed by director David Leveaux to take the references to Tyrone's spiritual deadness too literally. He played him as a sleepwalker or zombie, talking as if from great distance in a flat voice, a beat behind in all his reactions, frequently shaking himself or rubbing his eyes as if trying to wake up, just as frequently retreating into glassy-eyed catatonia. Aside from giving de la Tour virtually nothing to play against and thus making her accomplishment all the more remarkable, this strange (but clearly deliberate) performance was deadeningly alienating. We never got inside this automaton and thus never felt his anguish, his self-disgust (Robards' strong point) or, ultimately, his relief. And if the night's sleep in Josie's lap is not a precious respite from Tyrone's pain, then there is no might-have-been, no sense of Josie's great sacrifice of undemanding love. Frances de la Tour showed us a Josie who accepted the impossibility of her fantasy with heroic dignity; one wished she had been allowed to show us her satisfaction in having made that acceptance a gift to the man she loved.

--Gerald M. Berkowitz

[P.S. The London production, cast intact, will cross the Atlantic and join the winter season of the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, MA, in rotation with other ART productions from late December through February 4, 1984. A review of its American manifestation will appear in the next issue of the Newsletter. --Ed.]

(IN THIS ISSUE)

 

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