Review by Barbara Mehlman and Geri Manus
The first clue that there's something wrong with the new production of "A Moon for the Misbegotten" is the misbegotten set that adorns the stage. Dogpatch? The cyclone-tossed shack that fell on Dorothyï¿½s nemesis? No, according to playwright Eugene O'Neill, itï¿½s Connecticut, 1923.
As the play begins, Josie, performed by Eve Best, enters and you know immediately she isn't the best choice for Josie, a supposedly earthy woman with an "ample bosom." Sheï¿½s described in the script as a "great cow," but Best is, at best, a size 8. This is not the Josie etched in our memories by the plus-size Colleen Dewhurst in 1973. That production's all-star cast, which included Jason Robards as Tyrone, won Tonys for Best everything, and it deserved the recognition.
"Misbegotten" is the sad story of Josie, a woman of reported easy virtue; her conniving father, Phil, who urges her to trap Tyrone into marrying her by getting pregnant; and Tyrone, a committed drunk who professes his love for Josie but repeatedly plays the come-here-go-away game till you wonder why she doesn't take her fatherï¿½s cudgel and club him to death.
As for the production as a whole, the two of us diverge here, so in Ebert and Roeper style,
This latest revival of "Misbegotten" is a hodge-podge of badly cast actors who are usually excellent; a weird set by Bob Crowley, also usually excellent; and off-pitch direction by Howard Davies, usually excellent as well, in which Spacey, in particular, was allowed to make terrible acting decisions.
The first two-thirds of the play is a setup for Josie and Tyrone's moonlight date, and though he's two hours late, she's ecstatic when he finally arrives. Then, for the next hour, Tyrone talks, and talks. His motions, swishy and effeminate, donï¿½t fit the talk, and you have to wonder what kind of man he is trying to create.
His unnatural performance is more suited for an emotions list in an acting class: "Hmm, stinking drunk, angry, lucid, hysterical." The result is a quirky and disjointed rendition of an unlovable character, inexplicably loved by a lovable woman. He's so busy getting his technique right he forgot to be sympathetic.
I think this "Moon for the Misbegotten" is powerful and almost makes you forget that you are sitting for three hours watching two tormented souls trying to find each other. But this is O'Neill, so they never quite connect because, well, O'Neill people rarely do.
Josie and Tyrone are both extremely fragile people, but Josie's vulnerability especially shines through, even as she expresses her disdain for it. Watching her prepare for her date with Tyrone as she takes a break from her manly chores and male bravado, tugs at our heartstrings in all its improbability. Yet she manages to convincingly transform herself from rough and tumble farm girl into moonstruck romantic, testament to what a fine actor Best is.
I am particularly intrigued by Josie's stage business -- what characters do to occupy themselves during endless pages of dialogue. This business is sometimes more intriguing than the dialogue itself, and Josie is fascinating to watch. As she pumps water, washes rags, and wards off her father with a club worthy of a Geico caveman, her strength is revealed as an illusion.
It is revealed yet again when Josie and Tyrone uncover the truths about each other. Kevin Spacey is admirable in this role. His fluctuation between the sophisticated bon vivant of Broadway and the misguided landlord of this poor Irish tenant farmerï¿½s family is punctuated alternatively by frantic outbursts of emotional turmoil and a drunken lucidity that clouds the truth as he seeks it.
Colm Meaney as Josie's father is the glue that holds this production together. Though a hapless drunk, we quickly understand that his heart is bigger than his best bourbon and his worst scheme.
"Moon for the Misbegotten" is representative of O'Neill's diatribe of the Irish farmer whether in Ireland or good old Connecticut. Life is hard, and one makes it harder than it has to be by denying one's essence. The acting in this production is authentic and like Jim Tyrone's journey, worth the trip from Connecticut to Broadway.
Barbara gives this production a frown, Geri a smile.
Barbara Mehlman and Geri Manus
BEN BRANTLEY of THE NEW YORK TIMES: ï¿½Playing a graveyard-bound alcoholic in this off-kilter revival Mr. Spacey is as lively as a frog on a hot plate. When his Tyrone rails against the universe, it is with the frenzy of a fractious 2-year-old who has been told to eat his spinach." & "Eve Best, a sweetheart of the London stage in a commanding Broadway debut." & "Ms. Best... shoulder('s) the entire emotional weight of a heavy play.
JOE DZIEMIANOWICZ of NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: "Call it a lunar eclipse. Kevin Spacey is the marquee star of "A Moon for the Misbegotten," but in director Howard Davies' stirring new production, the great performance comes from Broadway rookie Eve Best. The British actress' debut is lustrous."
CLIVE BARNES of THe NEW YORK POST: "Fiercely dramatic yet with nuanced staging, Eugene O'Neill's "A Moon for the Misbegotten" is a long, wonderful night's journey into day." & "As Josie, Best hits every note with a sweetly underscored emphasis. Her acting is as natural as breathing, with a technique that doesn't just disguise technique but disposes of it. Marvelous!"
MICHAEL SOMMERS of STAR-LEDGER: "A truly memorable production? Probably not, but expect to see a generally satisfying rendition of a fine American play. If this "Moon" is not completely full, there's certainly a glow about it."
SIMON ANNAND of USA TODAY: "This Moon isn't as absorbing or affecting as it should have been. Let's hope its dynamic, resourceful leads are put to better use in future projects."
LINDA WINER of NEWSDAY: "Best persuades us that she has the raw-boned strength to bring safety to the man she loves. She finds a shimmering balance between the sturdy, bat-wielding, brazen giant of a slut she wants to be and the virgin she keeps hidden inside."
ERIC GRODE of the NEW YORK SUN: "Mr. Spacey never lets the showman fade completely. A generous assessment of his antic delivery is that he is masking James's self-loathing with a carefree faï¿½ade. Still, it's hard not to assume that he's merely delivering a few extra easy laughs ï¿½ and sidelining Ms. Best's majestic efforts in the process. This sort of mooning about is more than just misguided. It's misbegotten."
JEREMY GERARD of BLOOMBERG: "Spacey is an actor playing an actor in this Broadway revival, imported from London, and so it's not surprising that he draws on a well-packed bag of actorly tricks. But tricks they are, in this jarringly stylized production. The result is a fascinating evening -- the three hours pass in a flash -- that nonetheless makes a hash of a masterpiece."
MICHAEL KUCHWARA of ASSOCIATED PRESS: "Eve Best, she is one of the glories of the current Broadway season. Best is making her New York debut in this English import. It would be a serious mistake to miss her extraordinary performance, a remarkable balancing act of power and vulnerability, sexuality and innocence. Yet the production is a marvel not only for the actress, but for her equally adept co-stars, Kevin Spacey"
FRANK SCHECK of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: "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 Eve Best. Best mines every bit of emotional truth possible from a role that is one of the most powerful O'Neill created for a woman."
DAVID ROONEY of VARIETY: "For this lyrical, character-driven play to be fully effective, Jim's (Kevin Spacey) inescapable sorrow and Josie's wounded strength need to be invested with equal truth...The imbalance here is especially regrettable given Eve Best's stirring work as Josie."
External links to full reviews from newspapers