Daniel Williams

Archive for March, 2012|Monthly archive page

“A Damned Soul In Moonlight”- Eugene O’Neill’s ‘A Moon for the Misbegotten’

In American, Essay, Literature, Plays, Theatre, Writing on 15/03/2012 at 17:22

I’ve blogged about playwright Eugene O’Neill before, but this time I want to say something about my favourite of his plays, A Moon For the Misbegotten (1943). Most critical work on O’Neill I’ve read name his plays A Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1941) and The Iceman Cometh (1939) as his masterpieces and call A Moon For the Misbegotten a minor work. I like Long Day’s Journey… and The Iceman Cometh, but both plays are drama– serious, intense and a hell of an endurance test for an audience. A Moon For the Misbegotten is not a short play (brevity is not associated with O’Neill) but doesn’t have the three-hour plus running time of the others. It is a beautiful and sad work that I can revisit more than his others.

Taking place over a day and night at the Hogan farm, A Moon For the Misbegotten is about farmer Phil Hogan and his daughter Josie, a large ‘freakish’ woman with a quick wit. Their landlord is Jamie Tyrone, an alcoholic, but like Josie, a witty cynic. The joy of the play is how it evolves from a strange comedy, to the promise of a love story in Josie and Jamie’s moonlight date, but then the play evolves again into something quite different. The real heart and soul of the play only becomes apparent in its beautiful third Act. The play becomes deeper than a romance. It’s about “a damned soul…in the moonlight” with an unacknowledged need “to confess and be forgiven and find peace”.

A Moon For the Misbegotten is a sort-of-sequel to his semi-autobiographical Long Day’s Journey… as it features all four of the Tyrone’s (based on the real-life O’Neill’s). Jamie is the only one who appears in both plays. O’Neill felt his brother as portrayed in Long Day’s Journey… did not get a good enough deal. So, he followed it up with A Moon For the Misbegotten and gives his alcoholic, dead-beat, washed-up, loafer of a brother the requiem and forgiveness that he never received in real life. To me, this is where the play’s power stems from. O’Neill did not make peace with Jamie O’Neill (who drank himself to death at 45), but he gives peace to Jamie Tyrone through Josie Hogan.

O’Neill’s ‘masterpieces’ end cynically- with the Tyrone family lost in the fog, or the suicide and hopelessness of The Iceman Cometh. A Moon For the Misbegotten ends with a deep melancholy, but it is also very beautiful as, at least for a night, one of O’Neill’s haunted heroes finds peace.

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