Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Was Moon Eclipsed By Critics?

Was Moon Eclipsed By Critics?

Monday evening, director Howard Davies' new revival of A Moon For The Misbegotten opened at Broadway's Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Transferred directly from London's The Old Vic, this new incarnation of the classic Eugene O'Neill drama stars Kevin Spacey, Eve Best and Colm Meaney. While most critics agreed that Best is, well, best, many took issue with Spacey's fast-talking turn that provided more laughs than they were accustomed to via A Moon.

Proclaiming it "fiercely dramatic yet with nuaced staging," New York Post's Clive Barnes offers high marks: "As Josie, Best hits every note with a sweetly underscored emphasis. Her acting is as natural as breathing, with a technique that doesn't just disguise technique but disposes of it. Marvelous! Spacey and Meaney are just the opposite: They exult in their technique. They not only let you see where every effect is coming from, they actually stand aside as if to share in your admiration. It doesn't matter. You gasp, but it works."

Calling the production a "marvel," the Associated Press' Michael Kuchwara has praise all around for the revival's acting: "Best is making her New York debut in this English import....It would be a serious mistake to miss her extraordinary performance, a remarkable balancing act of power and vulnerability, sexuality and innocence.... Spacey...gives a carefully crafted performance. With his shy, almost impish smile, he ingratiatingly captures the man's surface joviality. It's a jokey slickness masking a guilt-riddled despair, a sorrow that explodes when he has had too much to drink....O'Neill's dated language can be melodramatic, even florid, but Spacey has the gift of making these outbursts sound painfully genuine."

Labeling the production "boisterous but oddly tepid" in his two-and-a-half star review, USA Today's Simon Annand offers a mixed assessment: "[I]n darker, more crucial moments, we see less of the capacity for unmannered emotional intensity that made Spacey a major player in both film and theater. There are glimmers of it in some of Tyrone's tortured ramblings, just as Best brings wrenching pathos to Josie's patches of despair, particularly in her scenes with Meaney, who is superb as Josie's bumbling father. Still, this Moon isn't as absorbing or affecting as it should have been."

Charging that this is "an off-kilter revival," Ben Brantley of The New York Times also took issue with Davies' lack of sobriety for the proceedings: "Yet even in the play’s climactic scene, in which Tyrone reveals his love for Josie and the cancerous self-disgust that makes him drink, the audience keeps laughing. Mr. Spacey brings a stand-up artist’s timing to Tyrone’s reversals of mood so that they land like punch lines....But the night belongs to Ms. Best, who clearly and winningly maps the contradictory levels of Josie Hogan, both the blustery facade and the sensitive core."

Also taking issue with the enhanced comedic aspects of the play is Eric Grode of The New York Sun: "Mr. Davies's suspiciously boisterous production of the 1947 play...lets the bawdy first half suck up too much oxygen, diminishing the richer emotions that follow....Mr. Spacey never lets the showman fade completely. A generous assessment of his antic delivery is that he is masking James's self-loathing with a carefree façade. Still, it's hard not to assume that he's merely delivering a few extra easy laughs -- and sidelining Ms. Best's majestic efforts in the process. This sort of mooning about is more than just misguided. It's misbegotten."

Accusing Spacey of "packing too much ego to entirely serve a complex role" that ends up a "disappointment," Variety's David Rooney takes a more direct hit on the actor: "[H]e continually undercuts the pathos by shamelessly courting the audience, too often punctuating the bleak revelations with smug line-readings colored by sardonic humor....A drama in which lies and protective shields dissolve to reveal the truth -- leaving Jim on a fast track to doom and Josie to face the future with new self-awareness -- demands honesty from its actors. That honesty is vivid and unpolluted only in the spiritual warmth of Best as Josie cradles her wounded 'child' in still-virginal arms at dawn, her tenderness enveloping the audience."

Will the mixed reviews matter much for this star-driven limited run production (the show is scheduled to close on June 10)? Most likely not, considering that A Moon For The Misbegotten boasted a box office capacity last week of 96.9%, up 9.7% over its previous week.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Broadway Moon Shines On Opening Tonight (April 9, 2007)
A Moon For The Students (April 4, 2007)
Money For The Begotten? (January 10, 2007)
Brooks Atkinson To Get Space(y)d Out With Moon For The Misbegotten (November 22, 2006)

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At 10 April, 2007, Anonymous Joanne said...

Great recap Steve. It's always nice to read reviews side by side and get differing viewpoints. For myself, I absolutely adored this production. It's amazing to me how two people can see the same show and come away with entirely different experiences. That's part of the beauty of a live show, at least tome.

Love your blog by the way. Even though I don't comment much, I read it often. Keep up the great work.

At 10 April, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Thanks Joanne, Appreciate the kind words as well as for letting me know how much you enjoyed the production.

Personally, I'm looking forward to taking in A Moon For The Misbegotten in just a few weeks, and as you may have picked up from other reviews, I'm not opposed to revivals taking new directions with source material.

I was struck by the near vitriolic scorn levied by David Rooney on this production, but when he compared Kevin Spacey to Cate Blanchett in last year's Hedda Gabler, he lost me. Since I personally thought hers was a breathtaking performance to behold, I'm now really looking forward to seeing this show and making up my own mind.

Feel free to comment anytime!


At 12 April, 2007, Anonymous Esther said...

The only critic who counts is seeing it tonight!!!

At 12 April, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, I'm looking forward to reading your take on the performance. Have a great journey to New York!


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