When taking another long day’s journey into the O’Neillian night of the soul in “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” it’s best to seek all the comfort you can. With Alyssa Bresnahan’s Josie Hogan one gets solace, strength and an infinite amount of love and forgiveness. It’s a well-grounded, well-rounded perf of the quintessential earth mother role, balancing the character’s toughness and vulnerability while embracing her humor, pride and resolve.
Written as a theatrical elegy for his older brother (indeed, the production opens with the music of a requiem), O’Neill’s last play is a heartfelt and personal expression of filial forgiveness. But one does not reach absolution easily and without a price to pay for the mismatched pair of unrequited lovers at the heart of the drama: Josie Hogan and James Tyrone Jr. (John Procaccino).
Josie and her father are poor tenant farmers living and working on land owned by Tyrone’s family, an estate James is about to inherit. Fearful that Tyrone may sell the farm to a wealthy neighbor, Josie’s father schemes to match the two; Josie has privately wished for such a union herself.
The self-deprecating Josie sees herself as an unsightly companion for such a cultured man as Tyrone (something that Bresnahan, even at her galumphiest, cannot fully convey). But Tyrone is drawn to Josie as a Madonna figure and is there not to court but to confess. Josie’s role, ultimately, is to give tender mercy.
Josie and Tyrone are unevenly matched in this production, however. Procaccino fails to find the charm, poetry and spark to light the character of Tyrone. Thesp comes across as just too ordinary a person, without the ability to summon a semblance of the character’s once-elegant dash. Instead, we have an all-too-common, empty-eyed, fuzzy-focused alcoholic walking in a secret haze, his steps broken only by tremors, confusion and regret.
It’s not until the famous final-act speech, in which Tyrone confesses his sins under the pale moon of a Connecticut night, that the aud connects with his profound and mournful ache. In wrenching self-disgust he recounts for Josie his shameful story — which mirrors that of James O’Neill — about the time he went off the wagon and on to a disastrous bender when his beloved mother took ill and died, an act that has haunted him since and is pushing him toward his own inevitable demise.
In the play’s famous Pieta de resistance, Josie cradles Tyrone in her arms and, from the depths of her great heart, gives him forgiveness and farewell. Even without a perfect pairing of actors, the scene still packs an emotional wallop as it wraps the audience in its healing arms, too.
Director Gordon Edelstein, who has trimmed some of the playwright’s exasperating excesses, zeroes in on the essence of the scenes and gets solid perfs from most of his players.
He also has a first-rate design team. Ming Cho Lee creates a realistic yet suggestive setting — a dusty, sloping, boulder-filled terrain and farmhouse that reeks of hopelessness. Jennifer Tipton’s lighting creates a landscape filled with desperate shadows, a lunar glow and the cleansing warmth of an approaching dawn.
As Josie’s scheming and irascible father, Bill Raymond gives a smart and well-measured perf, never going too far with the bluster and blarney. His final scene with his daughter is touching, real and proud. Steve French as Josie’s fleeing prude of a brother and Wynn Harmond as the jodhpurs-wearing neighbor also do well in their brief roles.
But it is Bresnahan, full of heartbreak and resolve, who brings a special moonlit glow to the Long Wharf production and provides its graceful amen.