REVIEWS OF O'NEILL PLAYS IN PERFORMANCE
3. A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN, directed by Thomas F. Bradac. Grove Theatre Company, Gem Theatre, Garden Grove, CA, April 11 - May 10, 1986.
A weak link might seem like little more than a bother in the performance of many a play; in playing O'Neill it usually threatens disaster. It is, perhaps, a tribute to his writing: tight, with scant room for improvising. In short, O'Neill is the artist's dream, the dabbler's nightmare.
While the Grove Theatre Company's presentation of A Moon for the Misbegotten at the Gem Theatre in Garden Grove, California, hardly fell apart, it didn't really hold together, either. There were many strengths in the production, but just enough weaknesses to compromise what might have been an outstanding performance.
The chief weakness was in casting two of the roles, and in the failure of one of those two performers to match the quality found in the production as a whole. Daniel Bryan Cartmell as Phil Hogan was not without talent, but simply didn't fit the part. Instead of impressing one as a billy goat, this hulk seemed more like an ox of a man, a very gentle ox. He towered over Josie so that only her tongue could save her. He lacked the anxiety of a man whose sons have deserted him, and whose only daughter seems destined for lifelong spinsterhood. And genuine anger seemed beyond his capacity to express.
The casting of Cartmell as Phil might have been overlooked, however, since he did a creditable job under the circumstances. But the unfortunate selection of Russ Terry as James Tyrone. Jr. could hardly be ignored. Suave in his dark beard, he seemed to belong more to Pigalle than to Broadway. More distinguished than dissolute, he knew his lines but appeared to have little real acquaintance with his character. His passionless recitation of the story of his mother's death was the low point of the performance. It was as if he had strayed onto the stage, not from Manhattan, but from another play altogether.
In stark contrast to these questionable choices, Cherie A. Brown as Josie was an excellent one. She had just the right trace of Ireland left in her voice, and her expression of emotions, as varied as mother-love and feminine fury, was very convincing. In the late-night scene with her drunken beau, her passion was achingly real.
The minor roles were also well-acted. Wayne C. Watkins as T. Stedman Harder showed the scorn of the rich and the fright of the suddenly defenseless; none of the humor in his scene was lost. The brief appearance of Danny Oberbeck as Mike Hogan proved a good beginning for the play. His accent matched Josie's so well, they seemed cut from the same cloth.
Thomas F. Bradac's direction was generally good, despite those initial errors in casting; there were few places where flaws were evident. Possibly the one glaring failure in direction was getting the drunks to act more like drunks. Phil and Tyrone held their liquor too well. The choice of music was also strange: the use of Gregorian chants seemed out of place.
The set design (by Gil Morales) put a lot of house on the Gem's small stage. The unpainted clapboard house with its two entrances served very well in a play where the set has important functions. Elms brooded over the house--a nice O'Neill touch. The costumes (designed by Karen J. Weller) also worked well, especially in the case of Josie. whose transformation from farmhand to lady was, as it should be, striking.
The later plays of O'Neill are demanding fare. This is not to say that they shouldn't be attempted, but to suggest that the possibilities for something less than resounding success may be quite real. The Gem's production of A Moon for the Misbegotten demonstrated once again the perils and the promise of mounting such a remarkable drama.
--Eugene K. Hanson
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