Written by: Eugene O'Neill
At: Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Ct., Glencoe. Tickets: $35-80. Runs through: March 18
Writers Theatre's A Moon for the Misbegotten is a powerful, poignant and often hilarious piece of theater.
Conceived as a sequel to A Long Day's Journey Into Night, Moon has little of the overwhelming drama of that earlier play that told the barely masked tale of the playwright's own family. Here the focus is on scion Jamie O'Neill ( called Jim Tyrone, Jr. in the play ) as he approaches his death due to complications from alcoholism.
Tyrone, played by Jim DeVita, is a broken man who hides his own sorrows in whiskey. DeVita imbues the character with a sense of playfulness as well as a barely hidden need both to find love and to expiate his guilt over decisions he's made that have brought him here. We see Tyrone through his tenant farmers, the Hogans. Phil Hogan ( A.C. Smith ) is a schemer who is always ready for a drink or a fight. His daughter Josie ( Bethany Thomas ) is the only one of Phil's children who can stand him, and that's probably because, at 5'11" and very strong, Josie is as capable of hurting him as he is of hurting her. Smith is brilliant as a man who switches from anger to humor at the drop of a hat, and an early scene in which he and Josie exact some vengeance on a rich neighbor ( a very effete Eric Parks ) makes the play seem almost a farce.
In fact, it is far more a comedy than a drama until its final act, in which O'Neill brings Josie and Tyrone together for mutual confessions and powerful moments. Thomas is perfect as Josie. She shows us from the start both the character's power and her vulnerability, often simultaneously. Josie is often a very difficult role to cast, and it's a critical one for the play, so the fact that Writers Theatre got it so right boded well for them from the start.
Todd Rosenthal's set for this play is a very realistic dilapidated farmhouse on a worn bit of land. It is enhanced by extraordinary lighting and sound from Jesse Klug and Andrew Hanson and costumes by Rachel Anne Healy that, in and of themselves, define the characters who wear them. Director William Brown keeps the pace quick, but the play still runs three hours due to two long intermissions. It's a long night's journey, but Thomas's compelling performance is worth the time.