Theater Reviews

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Brooks Atkinson Theater, New York
Through June 10


Eugene O'Neill's "A Moon for the Misbegotten" has returned to Broadway after its last revival a mere six years ago, and the reason is simple: Kevin Spacey. The actor, not seen on the New York stage since his Tony-nominated turn in the same playwright's "The Iceman Cometh," has brought over the production he originated at London's Old Vic (where he is artistic director) that was a critical and commercial hit.

The same success likely is to greet the New York transfer, though I suspect that there will be others besides me who have significant problems with the actor's performance. As Jim Tyrone, the alcoholic Broadway actor who finds a brief moment of grace and redemption in the arms of burly farmwoman Josie Hogan (Eve Best) one moonlit night, Spacey delivers a turn that is highly entertaining but also deeply mannered. Playing the role at a nearly unrelieved hysterical pitch, he ultimately is far more affected than affecting.

This is in deep contrast with his co-star, British actress Best, here making her New York stage debut. Although lacking the physicality befitting a character whom the playwright describes in his stage directions as being "so oversize that she is almost a freak," Best mines every bit of emotional truth possible from a role that is one of the most powerful O'Neill created for a woman. The character's emotional hunger and desperation come through with almost unbearable force.

The play, the last that O'Neill completed and which is best known for the revelatory 1973 Broadway production starring Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst, takes place over one long night, in which the two central figures briefly make an emotional connection that, tragically for the love-starved Josie, evaporates with the morning light. As the ending makes clear, Tyrone (the older version of the same character in "Long Day's Journey Into Night") will soon succumb to the ravages of drink.

Director Howard Davies emphasizes the play's heavy dosages of broad humor, occasionally to the evening's detriment. While much of it works -- especially the antic interplay among Jim, Josie and her wily father, Phil (Colm Meaney) -- too often the comic tone overpowers the play's tragic undercurrent.

This is particularly true of Spacey. Although his approach presumably stems from the character's theatrical orientation and the emotional extremes that can be brought on by alcohol, he so overdoes his physical gesticulations and mannerisms that Tyrone seems less ravaged and despairing than simply crazy. It's ultimately hard to see what exactly attracts the earthbound Josie to him.

Far more effective is Meaney, whose very funny turn as the conniving father is by contrast thoroughly natural and believable. Indeed, the veteran actor nearly steals the evening with his sly underplaying.

The stylized nature of the proceedings is further emphasized by Bob Crowley's set design, which presents a tilting version of the Hogans' dilapidated farmhouse that is almost cartoonish in its effect. Much more effective is Mark Henderson's lighting, which gorgeously conveys the shifting emotional states of the characters.

A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN
An Old Vic Theatre Company production
Credits:
Playwright: Eugene O'Neill
Director: Howard Davies
Set designer: Bob Crowley
Costume designer: Lynette Mauro
Lighting designer: Mark Henderson
Sound designer: Christopher Shutt
Sound system designers: T. Richard Fitzgerald, Carl Casella
Original music: Dominic Muldowney
Cast:
Josie Hogan: Eve Best
Jim Tyrone: Kevin Spacey
Phil Hogan: Colm Meaney
T. Stedman Harder: Billy Creater
Mike Hogan: Eugene O'Hare
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