The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted
by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others
by streaming new shows. And we take the opportunity to explore
other vintage productions preserved online. Until things return to
normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.
Moon For The Misbegotten
ABC Television 1975 and YouTube November 2022
and most exciting discovery this year in trawling through YouTube's
vaults is this 1975 American television production reproducing a 1974
O'Neill's warmest and most love-infused drama stars the foremost O'Neill
actor of the century along with an actress possibly even better than he,
under the sensitive guidance of the director who almost single-handedly
revived and restored O'Neill's posthumous reputation.
To be clear, I'm talking about A Moon For The Misbegotten, Jason
Robards, Colleen Dewhurst and Jose Quintero.
it on YouTube and watch it. You'll thank me.
slutty Josie lives with her hard-working and hard-drinking father on a
New England farm owned by ageing and alcoholic Broadway playboy Jim.
Though landlord and tenants are friends, Josie and her father fear Jim
will sell the farm out from under them and concoct a plot for her to
seduce and then blackmail him into letting them have it.
Josie has two secrets, which the play gives away early enough for me not
to apologise for these spoilers. Despite her sluttish posing, she is
actually a virgin, and despite her bawdy joking, she is deeply in love
the course of a drink- and moonlight-fuelled night she will realize that
more than sex or even romance the guilt-ridden and self-hating Jim needs
motherly comfort and forgiveness, and she will sacrifice her own desires
to offer him some peace.
is clear from that summary that, despite Jim being the star's role, the
play is really Josie's.
Dewhurst was very much an actors' actor, widely respected and repeatedly
awarded for her stage and television performances, though less known to
the general public since her film appearances were generally in small
she demonstrates all her power, whether being intimidatingly big and
broad as the shameless slut or deeply touching as she allows us glimpses
into Josie's secret self.
she might telegraph Josie's secrets, particularly the degree to which
she adores Jim, a bit too early, the television camera lets us see what
might be missed on stage – the way every joke or hint of a kind word
from him thrills her and every exposure of his own pains pains her.
in the sequences that are focused on him, and despite Jason Robards'
brilliant performance, you find yourself watching her watching him,
because she exposes so much by doing so little.
scholars and fans know that Jim in this play is a figure who recurs in
several others, sometimes under the same name, and that all are based on
the playwright's brother.
1974 Jason Robards had played them all – in Moon, Long Day's Journey
Into Night, The Iceman Cometh and Hughie. He knew this man, and he could
get inside him and show him to us without any flashy acting effects.
actor's body language alone – Josie describes Jim's entrance as 'like a
dead man walking slow behind his own coffin' – tells a lot. And the
close-ups let us watch and appreciate how Robards makes his eyes and
face go from spiritual deadness to vicious self-disgust and back.
a long central section in which O'Neill takes the play away from Josie
and gives it to Jim, Robards, while seeming to do very little, takes us
into the soul of a man in a self-generated hell.
much as you are drawn into the play itself, you will always be aware
that you are watching two extraordinary actors at the peak of their
powers. And that, of course, would be impossible without an
extraordinary and sensitive director.
the 1950s Jose Quintero resurrected O'Neill's reputation with powerful
productions of The Iceman Cometh and Long Day's Journey (both starring
particular skill was in finding the emotional core of the play – here,
surely Josie's love for Jim and her discovery of how best to express it
– and helping the actors build their characterisations and the play
practice that means that Dewhurst can make Josie's lewdness and quiet
love part of the same person, and Robards can take us deep into Jim
without distorting the play.
Watch it. You will not see a play this moving or acting this brilliant very often in your life.
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