Summer Theater Review: ‘Moon for the Misbegotten’ with Audra McDonald

Audra McDonald, Will Swenson, Glynn Turman, Aaron Costa Ganis, Howard W. Overshown.

When Audra McDonald’s Josie Hogan embraces Will Swenson’s James Tyrone in the last act of Eugene O’Neill’s elegiac masterwork “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” it’s an act — and a performance — of profound love, understanding and grace. This barefoot madonna may be raw, rough and randy for most of the play, but at this moment her open heart knows this broken man most needs peace before dying. The six-time Tony winner also knows what the role needs to get her to that transformative moment in the excellent Williamstown Theater Festival production. In her freshman go-round with O’Neill, McDonald goes to the head of the class in a full-bodied, sure-footed and deeply moving performance that is destined to be have further life beyond the Massachusetts Berkshires’ annual stage festival.

In this production, the Hogans, the Connecticut farm tenants of the landlord Tyrone in 1923, are not a shanty Irish family as originally written but rather a poor black brood, now reduced to a wily father and his take-charge daughter barely surviving on rock-strewn land in a shack of a house. Though the brogues have been dispensed with, the cavernous class divide still holds true — and may be even more relatable for contemporary audiences.

The play, written in 1943 and first produced disastrously four years later (it found its place in the theatrical firmament years later), begins as a rustic comedy before it turns, in the second act, into a haunting night of the soul. Director Gordon Edelstein stages this production with assurance, making the most of both the lighthearted scenes and the dramatic anguish of the protagonists, while also discovering quieter, private moments of reflection and realization.

He is greatly assisted by Ming Cho Lee’s original design from an earlier production, and adapted for the WTF stage by Lee Savage, realistically depicting an unforgiving setting against a slightly surreal and troubled sky. Jennifer Tipton’s exquisite lunar (and sunrise) lighting and John Gromada’s soundscape also are pluses in the production.

Glynn Turman is comically ornery and later touching as Phil Hogan, Josie’s scheming old goat of a father and Tyrone’s drinking pal. Aaron Costa Ganis (as the jodhpur-wearing neighbor) and Howard W. Overshown (as an escaping Hogan brother) also do well in their one-off roles.

Though almost too robust to be the “dead man walking,” Swenson delivers a solid performance as the dissipated, alcoholic and guilt-ridden Tyrone, haunted by the death of his beloved mother. The actor’s strong, melodic voice nicely taps into the character’s sense of theatrical bravura. He also handles the play’s lighter moments deftly, as well as tossing aside many of O’Neill’s repetitive excesses, making for a less arch character. For Tyrone’s big confessional soliloquy, Swenson commits himself to a credible, heart-wrenching confessional.

Together with McDonald — offstage they are husband and wife — there’s real chemistry, even if both performances aren’t quite transcendent yet. More time, either in rehearsal or in performance, seems needed on this long night’s journey into day to elevate it from a very good and satisfying production to a higher level.

Popular on Variety

Summer Theater Review: 'Moon for the Misbegotten' with Audra McDonald

'62 Center for Theater & Dance at Williams College, Williamstown, Mass.; 511 seats; $65 top. Opened, reviewed Aug. 8, 2015. Running time: 2 HOURS, 40 MIN.

Production: A Williamstown Theater Festival presentation of a play by Eugene O’Neill in two acts.

Creative: Directed by Gordon Edelstein. Sets, Ming Cho Lee, restored and adapted by Lee Savage; costumes, Jane Greenwood, lighting, Jennifer Tipton; sound, John Gromada; director of production, Eric Nottke; production stage manager, Brandon Kahn.

Cast: Audra McDonald, Will Swenson, Glynn Turman, Aaron Costa Ganis, Howard W. Overshown.

More Legit

  • The Rose Tattoo review

    Broadway Review: 'The Rose Tattoo' Starring Marisa Tomei

    “The Rose Tattoo” is what happens when a poet writes a comedy — something strange, but kind of lovely. The same might be said of director Trip Cullman’s production: Strange, if not exactly lovely. Even Marisa Tomei, so physically delicate and expressively refined, seems an odd choice to play the lusty and passionate protagonist, Serafina [...]

  • Obit-Roy-B

    Former NATO President Roy B. White Dies at Age 93

    Roy B. White, former president and chairman of the National Association of Theater Owners, died of natural causes Oct. 11 in Naples, Fla. He was 93. White ran the 100-screen independent theater circuit, Mid–States Theaters Inc. In addition to his career, he did extensive work on behalf of charities and non-profits. He was vice president [...]

  • Soft Power review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Soft Power'

    The “culture-clash musical” is a familiar template, in which a white American protagonist — waving the flag of individuality, optimism and freedom — trumps and tramps over the complexities of that which is foreign, challenging or “other.” David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori’s “Soft Power,” the new “play with a musical” at Off Broadway’s Public [...]

  • Jagged Little Pill Business of Broadway

    Listen: How 'Jagged Little Pill' Will Rock Broadway

    “Jagged Little Pill” wasn’t originally written with Broadway in mind — but the songs on Alanis Morissette’s smash-hit 1995 album do exactly what good musical theater songs should do, according to the upcoming show’s creators and producers. Listen to this week’s podcast below: The team explained why on Variety‘s theater podcast, “Stagecraft,” in an episode [...]

  • Stephen Moore

    Stephen Moore, 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' Android, 'Doctor Who' Actor, Dies at 81

    Stephen Moore, best known for his roles as the paranoid android Marvin in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” radio series and the Silurian Eldane in “Doctor Who,” has died. He was 81. “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” producer Dirk Maggs confirmed Moore’s death Saturday on Twitter, writing, “Our dear friend Stephen Moore has [...]

  • Ben Platt Variety Power of New

    Ben Platt on Coming Out and the Queerness of 'The Politician'

    Ben Platt never imagined he would one day star in a series like “The Politician.” “I didn’t think I could be a star of a show in general starting out. I think I was like, ‘I’ll do Broadway. I can be on stage and I can play Jimmy in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and Nathan Detroit [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content