Eugene O'Neill

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“Misbegotten” Is Memorable Pietà

Reviewed by Joanne Greco Rochman


A Moon for the Misbegotten. Hartford Stage, Hartford, Connecticut,  January 5, 2006-February 6, 2006.

Last season Long Wharf in New Haven presented Eugene O’Neill’s “A Moon for the Misbegotten” to critical acclaim. In a new “sister” relationship with Hartford Stage, Long Wharf has transferred the show to Hartford where it is currently playing. Even though the production is essentially the same and under the same astute direction of Long Wharf’s artistic director, Gordon Edelstein, there has been one major cast change. And viva la difference!  

The role of Jamie, whom many scholars agree is the raison d'être for the play to begin with, is now played by James Colby. Though the actor is large for the role, his too big suit and slouched and droopy body language suggest the image of an ailing man who has obviously lost substantial weight. But Colby does more than create the visual Jamie. He brings out from within his own soul, the sorrowful essence of the deeply troubled character. By the time Jamie collapses in the lap of Josie Hogan, played by Alyssa Bresnahan who nailed the role at Long Wharf and now melds with Colby, O’Neill’s holy, word-sculpted Pietà is complete. It is a stunning and breathtaking theatrical moment with the virgin Josie mourning over her self-loathing, spiritually dead lover held in her arms against her breast.

If the Long Wharf production lagged a bit in the second act, that is not the case in Hartford. With spitfire Bill Raymond again playing Josie’s father Phil Hogan, Steve French as her brother Mike, and the chemically charged Bresnahan and Colby, this is a memorable cast in an unforgettable play. It is a High Mass of forgiveness played out between a virgin woman and a dying alcoholic. Josie, portrayed by a petite but plucky Bresnahan, takes on the attitude of a bigger-than-life woman. Like Mother Earth, she is both a fearful truth and a compassionate absolution.

The Hartford production opens with Faure’s “Requiem.” The  music contributes to the set up for the metaphor of the Mass. No detail is left to chance. Ming Cho Lee’s set places a run down shanty farm high on the horizon, a veritable poor man’s altar with a heavenly sky as a backdrop.  Here, Josie, learns that James has been drinking to forget how he hurt his mother. Even when bringing back his mother’s casket, he felt disgraced. He is in desperate need of a confessor. He is in desperate need of forgiveness. Josie is there for him.

At the end of this comedy-laced tragedy, O’Neill takes the masks off James Tyrone, the supposedly great Broadway actor and womanizer, and Josie who pretended to be a whore. They remove their masks in the moonlight revealing their true selves. That’s when Jamie confesses to Josie, a virgin, not blessed but real, who becomes his confidante, his mother, and something sacred. The Hartford Stage actors are artists through and through.  The play runs through Feb. 5. Box office: (860) 527-5151.

Joanne Greco Rochman is theater critic and an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association, and a founding member of The Connecticut Critics Circle. This version of the review with minor changes appeared in the Waterbury Republican American.


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