'Moon' proves to be full of too little drama

The Baltimore Sun

Eugene O'Neill's last play, A Moon for the Misbegotten, is sometimes described as his greatest achievement, a fitting sequel to Long Day's Journey Into Night, also a largely autobiographical portrait of his family.

While often praised for his poetic depiction of the human condition, O'Neill may be equally famous for his wordiness, repetition and the complexity of his characters, which can create difficulties for the actors.

Written in 1943 and produced four years later, Moon garnered its first critical recognition with the 1973 Broadway production starring Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst.

Recently, actor Kevin Spacey revived Moon at London's Old Vic, where it met with enough success for a limited Broadway run in early spring. Perhaps Spacey and Eve Best make the play seem shorter than its actual length.

The current Colonial Players production runs 3 hours and 15 minutes.

In four acts with two intermissions, A Moon for the Misbegotten slowly reveals the obsessive love and towering guilt a son feels for his mother in the trials, agony and eventual redemption of James Tyrone (a fictional version of O'Neill's older brother, Jamie).

Set in 1923 rural Connecticut, the slow-moving, little-action plot is concerned with Irish immigrant tenant farmer Phil Hogan and his daughter, Josie, who scheme to keep their land out of the hands of Standard Oil neighbor T. Stedman Harder. They want to persuade their landlord and friend James Tyrone to sell his property to them.

To accomplish their goal, a moonlight rendezvous is arranged by Josie, who is in love with alcoholic James.

Josie and James endure a tortured night of confession leading to absolution and the discovery of an unexpected form of love. Phil Hogan reveals his love and understanding for his daughter to present a less bleak future for Josie.

The best performance in this production is given by Kelley Slagle, whose Josie has strength and sass. In the first scene, she sends her brother Mike (Robby Rose) to a better life. Slagle's Josie has an honest power as well as innocence beneath her false sophistication.

Edd Miller as Phil Hogan is beguilingly Irish in his brogue, funny and clever in his delight at outwitting all comers and conveys his understanding of his daughter with and without words.

Brian Donohue as James brings all the complexity, guilt and despair the role requires.

Despite the cast's noteworthy acting, the excellent, artful-in-its-simplicity set and the competent job by director Bob Bartlett, Colonial's production does not relieve the tedium.

At the end I wanted some of that "bonded bourbon" constantly talked about on stage, longing for a splash of Knob Creek on the rocks - it might have even gone down well as early as intermission. On opening night, the audience was noticeably diminished after intermission, and many of those remaining appeared to be asleep during the crucial moonlit denouement scene.

"A Moon for the Misbegotten" runs at the Colonial Players' theater at 108 East St. through Feb. 10 at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and at 2:30 p.m. Sundays, with a 7:30 p.m. performance January 28. Tickets cost $15 and $10. 410-268-7373.

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