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A CurtainUp San Francisco Bay Area Review A Moon for the Misbegotten

By Phyllis Butler
May you rest forever in forgiveness and peace. . .Jim darling.
With these words Eugene O'Neill pronounces benediction and ends his play

In San Francisco there's always a local connection: Just across the Bay in the hills above the city of Danville, Eugene O'Neill, four-time Pulitzer Prize winner and one of America's greatest dramatists, wrote this, his last play, -A Moon for the Misbegotten,-a tragic work of strange beauty. That was in 1941, twelve years before his death--but his poor health was a harbinger of his crippling Parkinson-like illness.

A fitting end to O'Neill's autobiographical dramas, A Moon for the Misbegotten brings back younger son Jamie Tyrone from the playwright's classic family epic Long Day's Journey into Night--ending the saga as well as O'Neill's writing career. Though never successful in his lifetime, Moon,a moving blend of autobiography and imagination that combines farce and melodrama, has since become recognized as one of O'Neill's greatest theatrical achievements.

Set on the Tyrone family farm that's staged throughout this ACT production in a wall-less structure suggesting a ramshackle farmhouse, the play focuses on three remarkable characters: Josie Hogan (played smartly by Robin Weigert) a single 30ish Irish woman with a sharp tongue and a bad reputation; her conniving drunkard father Phil (the talented ACT veteran Ray Birk); and marvelous Marco Barricelli as James Tyrone, Jr., the Hogans' non-resident landlord, an unrestrained alcoholic haunted by the death of his mother.

Until Jim in the person of dynamic, hunky Marco Barricelli comes on scene it's angry, quick-witted Josie who holds our attention. Not to take away from the attractive Weigert's performance the drama's initially talkative and farcical scenes didn't really speak to me until the much spoken of James Tyrone finally arrives. As portrayed by Barricelli, a big guy with a big presence and voice to match, Jamie/Jim is in midstream of his life as a second rate New York actor. He's full of false bravado, and increasingly vulnerable as the story progresses.

Apparently Jim is one of Phil Hogan's long standing drinking buddies. When, during one of their drunken bouts, he jokes that he's going to sell his land and evict the Hogans, Phil schemes to save the farm by taking advantage of the mutual affection between him and his daughter by setting up a situation for seduction.

Taking place over the course of one day, the story concludes by the light of an oversized romantic moon. The two "misbegotten" lovers share their attraction and longing for each other. Finally at dawn, in the play's poignant ending, they come together and divulge their secrets . . only to separate, but with loving understanding and forgiveness.

Moon has been described as O'Neill's most emotionally truthful play. I'm sure it was --or its time. Jim's dark secret --having sex with a "blonde pig'quot; at $50. a night on the train while his dead mother's body lies in the baggage car -- is not shocking enough by today's sensibilities for me to accept it as the cause of his self-hate and alcoholism. Maybe if he'd had sex on top of her coffin. . . ! But the pairing of Weigert and Barricelli and their heart felt connection is so well matched that it was easy to get caught up in the lost-love of it all. A sort of 20th-century catharsis for our New Age ennui.

Having portrayed Jamie Tyrone in Laird Williamson's production of Long Day's Journey into Night at A.C.T. in 1999, Marco Barricelli chose O'Neill's final play for his final performance as a member of ACT's core company of actors. His planned move to pursue his career in Rome and then go on to New York will create a shortage in ACT's leading man bench. Since his memorable debut in 1996 as Alvaro Mangiacavallo in Tennessee Williams' The Rose Tattoo,t he Juilliard-trained Barricellho been the company's most interesting leading man. Disappointed at the thought of his leaving, and perfect as he was in 'Moon, I found myself longing for Marco to cry out in his sonorous baritone. . . and create an operatic ending to this operatic play for me to remember him by.

A Moon for the Misbegotten
By Eugene O'Neill.
Directed by Laird Williamson.
Cast: Robin Weigert (Josie Hogan), Ray Birk (Phil Hogan), Marco Barricelli (James Tyrone, Jr.
Sets: Rob Morgan
Costumes: Sandra Woodall
Lights:Don Darnutzer
Sound: Garth Hemphill
Running time: Two hours, 40 minutes
American Conservatory Theater
Geary Theater 415 Geary St.
San Francisco, (415) 749-2228
Tickets: $15-$68.
From 5/04/05 through 5/29/05
Reviewed by Phyllis Butler May 4th 2005

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