Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 10, 2015

A Moon for the Misbegotten

Williamstown Theater Festival, Williamstown, MA 
through August 23, 2015
by Jarice Hanson

As Audra McDonald explodes onto the stage, barefoot, sans make-up, it becomes clear that director Gordon Edelstein’s vision of the Eugene O’Neill classic, "A Moon for the Misbegotten," is going to be something special—and the production does not disappoint. Ably matched by the wonderful Glynn Turman as her father with whom she spars and schemes, the energy continues throughout the first act as the story of the survival of father and daughter ( Phil and Josie Hogan), two Connecticut farmers trying to buy their farm from the wealthy alcoholic playboy, James Tyrone, begins to unfold. When Will Swenson, McDonald’s real-life husband appears as Tyrone, the energy intensifies and a cat and mouse game ensues.

Director Edelstein and his superb cast find the humor in O’Neill that few productions have discovered. The comedy and energy set up the moving second act in which Tyrone’s story unfolds and the tragedy of human frailty emerges.  To say that McDonald and Swenson have chemistry is an understatement. In the moving scenes that set up the counterpoint of love and the lies that are told to protect one from pain, the director stages the two in a Pieta-like pose that is illuminated by the moon as the night continues and the two bond silently.

Jennifer Tipton’s lighting design becomes integral as the audience breathes and "lives" with the couple, in their silence and sorrow. The moonlight illuminates human frailty and foreshadows what we know, will ultimately crush the characters whom we’ve started to love.

At times, the sotto voce scenes were hard to hear, even in the fifth row—but the characters are so realistically developed and humanly flawed, it is easy to overlook this point. After an almost unanimous standing ovation, one teen was overheard saying to her friend, “Can you believe someone’s chair squeaked in that intimate scene?” If a production can so engross a teenager, O’Neill’s classic and these actors are all doing something right.