‘Moon’ rises at Wharf

Eugene O’Neill chose the perfect title for his semi-fictional “A Moon for the Misbegotten.” The Long Wharf production, directed by Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein, bears striking similarities to its title: it’s lyrical, captivating and of indeterminate meaning (even after three hours, one intermission and expressive acting).

The title sure is fun to say, though. So too is the play fun to watch. And in most scenes, easy to watch as well, as the stage is populated with only two or three characters; the entire cast list consists of only five.

The story takes place in September 1923 in the Connecticut farmhouse of tenant farmer Phil Hogan (Bill Raymond) and his daughter Josie (Alyssa Bresnahan). We soon find out that Mrs. Hogan died in childbirth, and this same child escapes to the city early in the play.

Josie remains on the farm and continually boasts of her sexual prowess to her father’s amusement and encouragement; she is a hardworking, plucky young woman who purports to be as skilled with feminine wiles as she is with a hoe and udder.

From the beginning of the play, however, Josie’s cocky ways and ready smile falter at the mention of their landlord James Tyrone, Jr. (John Procaccino). The audience soon realizes that the two are desperately in love, despite Josie’s relentless teasing about Jim’s connection to glitzy New York City and his corresponding prostitute habit.

And Bresnahan is thoroughly convincing as Josie; her brogue is flawless, and though a few centimeters of dark brown roots disprove the naturalness of her ruddy auburn hair, her shapeless dresses help make her self-deprecating statements of being a “fat cow” in possession of an “ample bosom” more credible.

Tension regarding the expiration of the Hogans’ property rights forms the primary conflict of the play, yet Jim enjoys a rapport with Josie and Phil. Complaints about broken fences from the Hogans’ rich neighbor, T. Stedman Harder (Wynn Harmon) provide an interesting contrast to the countless googly eyes between Josie and Jim.

Procaccino, in his dapper plum-colored three-piece suit, adeptly evokes the nouveau riche urbanite with a soft spot for a farm girl. His accent is somewhat distracting; it is something between the drawl of a Southern evangelist and the slick singsong of a car dealer. Raymond hits the mark as the tenacious, downtrodden poor farmer.

The second act concerns the night Josie and Jim finally get to spend together, Through a combination of lucky coincidences and scheming by Phil, the two are left alone at the Hogan house. With no company but a bottle of especially potent bourbon, the two begin to discuss weighty matters, as is generally prudent when one is soused. Love, death and family disappointments are the topics at hand.

“A Moon for the Misbegotten,” which O’Neill characterized as a “strange combination comic-tragic,” contains many echoes of O’Neill’s life. The character of James Tyrone, Jr. also appeared in the playwright’s autobiographical play “A Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” representing O’Neill’s older brother Jim, who suffered from alcoholism.

Several incidents are unaltered from O’Neill’s life in the play, including a disturbing account of a thoroughly drunk Jim O’Neill at his mother’s funeral and an episode with a prostitute in a train car.

The inclusion of these elements and the bittersweet conclusion of the play makes the production somewhat depressing. Despite comic relief provided by the colorful Irish slang used by Josie and Phil and lightheartedness promoted by props an the on-stage water pump, “Moon” is heavy going.

Despite this, “A Moon for the Misbegotten” is full of emotion and poignancy. While the story is hackneyed and at times the dialogue crosses over into the realm of cheesiness, the production is full of the realism of being in love.

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