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A Moon For The Misbegotten
Pulitzer Prize-winner's classic play is a powerful and captivating exploration of humanity
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  THE plays written by Eugene O’Neill have gained the reputation of being exhaustingly demanding and emotionally draining for the actors who choose to step into these challenging, sometimes grueling, roles. That’s certainly true for the three main actors in the Writers Theatre’s production of O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten.
   First in the spotlight is Bethany Thomas, who is perfectly cast as Josie Hogan, a hard-charging, take-control farm girl who is the do-everything (her way) woman around the house in a seemingly nonstop day that ranges from hand-washing a load of clothes to repairing the plumbing to running her kid brother away to seek a new, more beneficial life in the city. Making her day more interesting, and sometimes difficult, is her gruff and often needy father, Phil Hogan, played by Chicago-favorite A.C. Smith as the Hogan family patriarch who’s always looking for a way to get ahead, even if it affects those closest to him. Then there’s Jim DeVita, who steps into the role of James Tyrone Jr., a complicated man who is an occasional actor, hardened drinker and the owner of the Hogans’ property. 
   By the time the cast takes their bows after the nearly three-hour production, the audience can feel Thomas’, Smith’s and DeVita’s––mental and physical––exhaustion due to the shifting emotions that are central in this O’Neill work.
   Set in 1923 rural Connecticut at the Hogans’ farm, Phil Hogan looks forward to owning the land he rents, but landlord Jim Tyrone comes into an inheritance and Hogan’s dreams begin to turn into a nightmarish possibility––the possibility that the land could be sold to someone else. Smith is convincing as the scheming elder Hogan, who, with his daughter, come up with a strategy that, unintentionally, reveals the surprising secret that two unlikely souls finally realize. 

   O’Neill’s exploration of a complex situation highlights some of the worst and best of people as they go from one emotion to another. His unique mixture of drama and humor is captivating. In this presentation, much of the levity in the Pulitzer Prize-winner’s play centers on the nonstop banter between father and daughter, a busty woman who holds her own as she verbally goes toe-to-toe with her devious, frequently drunk father. The two are more like an all-the-time-bickering, married couple whose arguments are as frequent as Hogan’s drinks. 
    “We’re all excited to be exploring Eugene O’Neil for the first time in our 26-year history,” says Michael Halberstam, the theater's artistic director. “Bill Brown [director] has articulated such a beautiful, passionate, personal and clear vision for the piece. At Writers, it is our mission to take classics down from the shelf and dust them off and breathe new life into them. A.C. Smith, Bethany Thomas and Jim DeVita [in fact the whole cast, including Eric Parks and Cage Sebastian Pierre] are some of the finest actors in the city and therefore the country. They bring original and refreshing voices to the conversation about the play, and their endless reservoirs of creativity and emotional sophistication make for a compelling take on the narrative.”
    Within that narrative, the three main characters embrace their false roles and all that come with them to get the most out of their mostly uneventful, often sad, lives. Additionally, that narrative is significantly enhanced visually by the work of scenic designer and Tony Award-winner Todd Rosenthal, who created a set that showcases the authenticity of the 1920s. From start to finish, the play takes place in an environment that spotlights a tin-roofed, whitewashed shanty sitting on a grassless yard that’s dotted with a rusty hand pump for water, a washboard and tub, and a laundry line full of clothes.
    Throughout the production, it’s clearly evident that life on the Hogan farm leaves more to be desired, but if the Hogans somehow lose their “prized possession,” life for them will go from sad to sorrowful. So on a night in which the enchanting moon casts a romantic glow, Josie and her father’s plan to keep the farm goes into effect. But for Jim and Josie on that night, unexpected events lead to some major, life-changing revelations.
––Walter Leavy
For more information and tickets, go to A Moon for the Misbegotten is presented Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30 p.m; Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Ticket prices range from $35 to $80. The box office is located at 325 Tudor Court in Glencoe. Telephone 847/242-6000.
In a confrontation at the farm, Josie faces off with landlord James Tyrone Jr. (Jim DeVita). Later, Josie (below) is all prim and proper as she waits patiently for her suitor to arrive.
Chicago-favorite A.C. Smith as tenant farmer Phil Hogan and Bethany Thomas as his no-nonsense daughter Josie star in Eugene O'Neill's award-winning Moon for the Misbegotten at Writers Theatre through March 18.