By Steve Wong
Like most of Eugene O’Neill’s plays,”A Moon for the Misbegotten” has layers upon layers of emotional turmoil, characters who are their own worst enemy, and dismal messages that help us understand the complexities of life. We may not fully understand why and how
these complexities, such as the impact that drug addiction and alcoholism have on the American family, but watching the characters tear themselves asunder in search of answers makes for some of the best theatre on the American stage.
The Warehouse Theatre
in Greenville is daring and appreciated for presenting a show that leaves the taste in your mouth of last night’s drinking binge, a reminder that what is said and done under the influence of rock gut or gut-wrenching vulnerability can haunt us for the rest
of our limited days.
To better understand “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” it helps to know the definition of “misbegotten,” a word rarely used. According to online dictionaries, it means “badly conceived,” “contemptible,” and “illegitimate.”
All of these definitions find a proper place
in this high-drama play about a dirt-poor but strong-willed woman, Josie Hogan, who is paid a visit by a man in her life, James Tyrone Jr, who left the rocky countryside of Connecticut in the 1930s to make his way in the world as a Broadway actor.
She lives in a lean-to shack with her father, Phil Hogan, a salty old Irish geezer with a taste for moonshine and a knack of scheming. Certainly, Josie inherited her father’s ability to create complicated and self-serving “tricks” and “games” in hopes of getting the
best of the other guy any way possible. James, who has a reputation of a woman-chasing drunkard, has returned to his native land in the wake of his mother’s death to settle her estate, which includes the homestead and farm land that the Hogans rent and would
like to own.
For the sake of backstory continuity, it should be noted that James is one of the two sons in O’Neill’s more-famous play, “A Long Day’s Journey Into the Night.” That play had a domineering father, a mother addicted to drugs, and a set personal problems that not
even the Kardashians could revival. Yes, James has mommy issues.
“Moon” might be classified as a character-driven play. However, a case could be made that it is a play driven by controlled and out-of-control plots within plots. It doesn’t really matter, as the complex characters and their bizarre circumstances drive the play head-on
into barriers set up for good reason. Take for example, the self-cultivated reputation that Josie is the town slut. She’s not. She’s actually a virgin. What would drive a woman to brand herself as a whore, when she’s actually saved herself for… well, James,
probably, if he would ever stop hiding his feelings in liquor bottles.
Actress Kerrie Seymour puts herself through the wringer as Josie. Her range of character goes from bossy-for-your-own-good to tenderly holding a sleeping drunk on yard rocks and the bare dirt under a moon she had hoped would see… romance… understanding… financial security… entrapment… love? This character calls for a working farm woman with physical strength that actually shows in her arms and carriage. It matches her strong and take-charge personality, going head to head with anyone. But beneath her hard-scrabble
veneer is a vulnerable woman trying to get by in a man’s world and who could greatly benefit from a shoulder to lean on. Seymour commands the stage when Josie is on a roll; equally powerful is Seymour’s ability to expose Josie’s tender underside.
This is a character prone to changing quickly, and Seymour is a marvel in this mercurial role of facing some of life’s hardest facts. To her credit, Seymour has appeared on Warehouse’s stage in “Spring Awakening,” “Angels in America,” “August: Osage County,” “Lost in
Yonkers,” and many others. She directed “The Cake,” “In the Next Room,” and “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.” Her day job is being an assistant professor of acting at Clemson University.
Counter to or nsync with Josie is James. City-suited and with a false swagger, he re-enters his childhood community a somewhat legend. He is one of several who escaped but has returned on business and to revisit old relationships. Played by Sean Meehan, James is one part playboy, one part lost little boy, and a full-time charming drunk. Like Seymour, he delivers the dazzling dialog with total confidence and total character immersion.
It is no easy task to be both a cad and lost soul, but Meehan pulls it off nicely and
even makes the sprinkling of humorous lines painfully funny. As the leading man and lady in a five-actor play, he and Seymour definitely have that ever-elusive chemistry that can make or break a performance. This one makes it again and again throughout the
three-hour long show. Meehan has paved his career with years of work in regional theater and his hometown of New York City. In more recent years, he has been found on both the big and small screens. He has been seen on HBO’s “The Deuce,” CBS’s “Elementary,”
and will be seen in Netflix’s upcoming “Maniac.”
Rounding out the main characters is Ronn Carroll, playing Josie’s father Phil Hogan. Thank you, Mr. Carroll for holding the reins on your Irish accent. There’s almost nothing worse than dialog spoken with an accent so heavy that the words are not understood by the slow-to-hear Southern ears. Carroll might be an older actor, but he carries his weight and more as the shysterly old dirt farmer looking for a get rich scheme. When he and Josie/Seymour go at it hard and heavy, the words written by O’Neill soar with bitter
tenderness, open conflict, camouflaged love, and a father/daughter misunderstanding that can only be endured, never corrected.
One of the play’s most revealing moments is when Josie accuses Phil of trying to trade her virtue in an attempted blackmail: Actually,
that was not the case. He had his reasons, and patrons should see the play to find out why this twist of circumstances is so intriguing — and to see Carroll at his best, as a man doing what he believes to be right and to be grossly misunderstood. Carroll has appeared in some 20 Broadway plays in a professional career of more than 50 years. He has played in many of the great plays, such as “Promises Promises,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Man of La Mancha,” “On Golden Pond,” and “Gypsy,” and with many of the great actors, such as Matthew Broderick, Liza Minnelli, Chita Rivera, and Ethel Merman. Upstate South Carolina is honored to have him on one of its stages.
The Warehouse Theatre’s production of “A Moon for the Misbegotten” is directed by Mark Sutch, who is new to this playhouse, and so far, so good. He chairs the theatre department at Davidson College in North Carolina, where he has taught acting and directing since
2006. When all is said and one, it is the director who is responsible for the success or failure of a play. I look forward to seeing more of Sutch’s successful work in this neck of the woods.
These days, we don’t often get to experience the deep-drama works of Eugene O’Neill. He is certainly not known for light or easy drama. Quite the opposite. All the more reason to see “A Moon for the Misbegotten” while you have the chance. In a day and age when people
want catchy songs, one-liners, and easy plots to follow, we might just need the opposite to remind us life is not always a bowl of cherries. There are pits, and without the hard and fertile pits, there would be no fruit of the theatre.