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Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. X, No. 2
Summer-Fall, 1986



2. A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN, produced by the Asolo State Theater, Sarasota, Florida, Winter 1986.

The Asolo Theater is housed in a most attractive 18th-century court playhouse in Sarasota on the grounds of the Ringling art museum. Ringling, being the flamboyant circus man he was, collected a number of large, colorful works by Rubens and others of that era, which form the core of a fine collection. He also transported from Asolo, Italy, considerable portions of the court playhouse of the ruling house. (In late years, architects from Asolo have come to study this structure in order to reproduce it in its original Italian setting.)

For the past 27 years a professional repertory company of the theater has produced a season of 18th century and modern plays, including Desire Under the Elms and Long Day's Journey, and perhaps others by O'Neill. As a state theater, they also tour through Florida and southern Georgia. They are thus one of many such partly-publically supported theaters, which are bringing professional theater to rural areas throughout the country to an extent unknown since the demise of the Federal Theatre in 1939. (Two other State Theaters which also tour schools and local communities are the Hippodrome in Gainseville and the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami.)

Thus I saw Moon on February 10, 1986, in the auditorium of the St. Johns River Community College, Palatka, sponsored by the Arts Council of Palatka. Palatka is forty miles from the seat of the University of Florida in Gainesville and in the midst of farmland, where fields of potatoes and cabbage are grown. Does O'Neill play in Hickville? I can testify that he does.

Having previously seen only the tv portrayal of Moon, I do not know how it is usually staged, but I was impressed by the efficiency of this production. Two clapboard sections, partly cutting off the view of the Hogan main room, but still allowing characters to be seen in it, provided the permanent staging, so different from early productions of Desire, with a wall having to be removed and replaced for different scenes. In other words this touring set served the play perfectly. Although Nora Chester was not as large as O'Neill made Josie out to be, she did convey the impression of great strength, and one did feel that she could hold her own, not only with her brother Mike Hogan, but with her father as well.

In the argument between Professors Miller and Manheim as to whether the play is "flawed," as Judith Barlow claims, I am most impressed, after seeing this production, with the close relationship between Josie and her father, Phil Hogan. It is not exactly incestuous, but it is so close that the jibing at each other is almost sexual. (One is reminded of Lear's "birds in a cage" wooing of Cordelia.) From the opening of the play, when Josie slams her brother to the ground for calling Phil an "old hog," to the last, when she tells her father, "I'll get your damned breakfast," and he replies, "Now you're talking," as he enters the house through her bedroom, the play is theirs. Jim Tyrone, you might say, pops in and out. Regardless of my facetiousness, I do wonder how O'Neill came by this close daughter-father portrayal. It couldn't have been him and Oona. Carlotta certainly didn't trade quips with whatever father she had. It couldn't have been from any Hogan-type families he knew. Did Agnes and her father engage in affectionate by-play? We know where O'Neill got Jim Tyrone all right, but the mystery of what I see as the crux of the play remains. Mannon and his daughter Lavinia furnish no clues.

In any case the audience found the play very moving. Dane Knell as Phil Hogan, Terry Layman as James Tyrone, and Marc Durso as both Mike Hogan and Mr. Harder, complemented the acting of Nora Chester to make for an evening of superb theater in the heart of cracker land in north central Florida.

--Winifred L. Frazer



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