A soaring yet uneven revival of Eugene O’Neill’s tragic love story, A Moon for the Misbegotten, has arrived on Broadway by way of London’s Old Vic Theatre, where the production in a limited run was a critically acclaimed hit last season. The complete company, headed by the British darling, Olivier Award winner Eve Best and two time Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey are reprising their roles under Howard Davies’ direction in the British import. Mr. Spacey, incidentally, is the artistic director of The Old Vic and a devotee of the playwright having appeared on Broadway in O”Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night and The Iceman Cometh, but the evening belongs to Eve Best, who delivers a searing performance as the gangly heroine.
The drama, Eugene O’Neill’s final work written in 1943 was inspired by the playwright’s older brother James. The character of James Tyrone, who was left floundering in Long Day’s Journey into Night, is given redemption in Moon as he nears the end of his self destructive life. Last seen on Broadway just 7 years ago, the play was first produced in 1957, but the 1973 revival starring Colleen Dewhurst and Jason Robards, retained for posterity on DVD, elevated the play to its now classic standing and is fondly remembered by many as definitive. The current production as helmed by Mr. Davies emphasizes the comedic effects without sacrificing the emotional depth and has been trimmed dramatically from its original four acts to a running time of 2 hours and 50 minutes with only one intermission.
The movie star Kevin Spacey, who plays James Tyrone, an alcoholic second rate actor filled with demons may be responsible for filling the theater, but it is Eve Best making her Broadway debut as Josie Hogan that keeps the patrons in their seats. Best has been steadily developing as a significant actress of prominence across the pond in Britain and now we can see why. Her Josie is a beautifully crafted and richly detailed portrayal that feels as organic as breathing.
Josie is a big awkward farm girl, who lives with her Irish Immigrant father Phil Hogan (Colm Meaney) on property owned by James Tyrone. She has gained a reputation as the town’s whore, but is secretly a virgin harboring powerful passion for Tyrone. The two lost souls will ultimately spend a long ago destined evening under the moonlight where the raw intensity of their true feelings will be revealed.
Best’s performance is all the more remarkable, because physically she does not embody the character’s description adding to her mass of contradictions. She is a volatile hellion attempting to hide her heart of gold behind a tough exterior and a quick temper. Possessing insecurities that lay very near the surface her vulnerabilities are easily exposed and she often looks like a lost little girl, but she is, nonetheless, propelled by her desire and lust for Tyrone. She conceals her tremendous fear with sudden fits of temper and occasionally bursts of sarcastic humor. The actress is totally remarkable in her simplicity and her transitions never seem forced.
Spacey’s spastic Tyrone is the complete opposite and his performance feels imposed. He delivers many of his lines at the break neck speed that has become a staple of his theater work, but adds to the rushed effect. He rarely takes time to create moments and his self indulgent performance comes across as manic and mannered. You see him working and you are amazed at the effort, but he is often guilty of grand style showboating.
The two actors have wonderful chemistry, however, and this makes a tremendous difference during their emotional sparing of the second act as she goes about seducing the drunken self pitying Tyrone. The actress is divine and looks like the front runner for this year’s Tony Award for Best Actress in a drama. Regardless of the evening’s shortcomings the inspired language is pure O’Neill gold at its best.
By… gordin & christiano
Originally Published on Hamptons.com
A Moon for the Misbegotten opened on Broadway April 9, 2007 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 West 47th Street between Broadway and Eighth Ave. Tickets are available by calling 212-307-4100 or at the box office.