A three hour play written in 1943 seems like a tough sell in our current moment, where daily political upheavals and violence perpetuate an intense ‘now more than ever’ feeling. And yet, this play about facing truth, about coming to terms with self-delusion, is so brilliantly written that both my companion and I left the theatre feeling like it was speaking directly to us--like it knew something about each of us that even we did not. For these little unspoken truths dictate how we act and react to the world around us, and it is for that reason that this decades old drama manages to resonate so intensely in 2018.
Part of this strong reaction stems from how Eugene O’Neill’s piece masterfully encourages you to buy into the delusion these characters have created. The first two acts are primarily setup in this sense, walking you through the lies farmer Phil Hogan (A.C. Smith) and his daughter/farmhand Josie (Bethany Thomas) tell themselves and each other to get by daily. When their landlord James Tyrone (Jim DeVita) enters the scene, we begin to get an inkling that perhaps underneath Josie’s staunch rejection of affection lies passionate attraction and devotion. But it isn’t until the third act, when the moon appears, that everything comes to the surface.
It’s under this moonlight truth-telling serum that the actors at Writer’s Theatre showcase their impressive performance chops. DeVita’s transformation from a charming, devil-may-care alcoholic to a raw, damaged man desperate for comfort, is gut-wrenching in its perceived realness, and Thomas responds in kind; her character’s arc, one from dogged self-confidence to vulnerability, proves equally effective.
The only missed moment, perhaps, comes from the gravity of the play’s conclusion, when the moon’s dissipation causes yet another change, and Josie and Phil leave us with a tender and rare moment of genuine affection between the father and daughter. Smith and Thomas underplay this scene just a bit, and we don’t quite get the significance of this final reveal--a fault which may fall on the shoulders of director William Brown more than the performers.
All in all, though, this 180 minute endeavor is one well-worth undertaking. Every element, from the script’s masterful crafting to the actors to the tremendous set and sound designs (Todd Rosenthal and Andrew Hansen), comes together to create a moving and surprisingly relatable production. Perhaps we all just need a little more moonlight in our lives.
Review by Emily Schmidt
A Moon for the Misbegotten continues at Writers Theatre through March 18. More info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreinChicago's Review Round-Up.
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