***1/2 (out of ****)
With memories still fresh from the impeccable 2003 Broadway revival of O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, I was eager to finally consume the next chapter of the Tyrone family’s story, which of course, is based in part on the playwright’s own brother’s life. Having already witnessed the ruinous self-destructive path of mother Mary Tyrone and the beginnings of that propensity in her son Jamie, I understood that Moon’s continuation of his story would point toward the same bleak end for him.
Since I had never before seen A Moon For The Misbegotten, I had few preconceived notions of how each character should be portrayed. However, in reading the reviews in advance, I certainly knew that many critics were less than pleased by Kevin Spacey’s unique reading of an older, but hardly more mature Jim Tyrone. But I vowed that in seeing the show, I would not let those critiques unfairly prejudice my receptivity to Spacey’s interpretation or the production itself.
Ask anyone who’s held off in seeing a show until it’s already well into its run and they’re likely to tell you that it’s either a blessing or a curse.
It may be a blessing because the production has long since found its footing. Or perhaps it’s a blessing since the actors have achieved a higher degree of confidence in their own portrayals, not to mention a greater symbiotic relationship with the rest of the cast. On the other hand, it may be a bit of a curse if the critics weren’t necessarily kind to the production. Or even worse, if the actors are already calling in their performances, essentially making the show anything but vital.
The latter most certainly cannot be said about Howard Davies’ mesmerizing, profoundly moving, and yes, even entertaining production. I never thought three hours in a theatre could go by so quickly given the tough, dark subject matter.
To say I was completely spellbound by the intensity of the three principal actors would be an understatement. Colm Meaney, Eve Best and Spacey are all brilliant.
As the scheming and belligerent Phil Hogan, Meaney swaggers, cajoles and even cowers under his promiscuous daughter Josie’s domination. Best is nothing short of a revelation; the diminutive actress may not quite be the cow O’Neill originally envisioned, but her forceful take on Josie makes her a woman whom men should challenge at their own peril. And yet, there’s such a genuine quality to her Josie that whether she’s squaring off -- with her own father, the neighbor T. Stedman Harder (Billy Carter in a real display of comic relief) or Jim Tyrone – or falling deeply for Jim’s charms, Best offers the production’s most nuanced performance.
And then there’s Spacey, much derided for what is perceived as a lighthearted, almost comedic portrayal of the alcoholic Jim Tyrone. No matter that in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, we got a glimpse early on into how Mary Tyrone herself glossed over her demons. Never mind that throughout O’Neill’s writing, the audience is reminded continuously that this washed-up actor is a natural kidder. (What’s that old saying? “Once a kidder, always a kidder”?) And lest I forget, Josie is supposed to be attracted to this man, isn’t she?
What I found so captivating about Spacey’s ultimately heartbreaking portrayal is that, as the eternal actor and kidder, Jim Tyrone has little choice but to mask over the truth and shame he feels deep in his soul by putting up a front of frivolity. That and the refuge he takes in the bottle essentially provide him the sole remaining means by which he can bear to live with himself.
Jim’s subsequent meltdown in Josie’s arms is rendered all the more poignant and tender because for a fleeting moment, Josie finally has a clear view into the window of his aching soul. She’s able to truly comprehend the extent of her would-be lover’s extraordinary anguish, sense of loss and resulting humility.
Together, Best and Spacey are as symbiotic as any two actors I’ve witnessed, and they provide one of the most astonishing and affecting hours I’ve experienced from live theatre all year. This haunting revival of A Moon For The Misbegotten is, in a word, spectacular.
This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).
Was Moon Eclipsed By Critics? (April 10, 2007)
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)