Moon for the Misbegotten, Brooks Atkinson, New York

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If Kevin Spacey thought his Old Vic production of O’Neill’s Moon for the Misbegotten was going to receive the same acclaim on Broadway that it did in London, this week he got a rude spring awakening. Instead of being grateful that he and the director Howard Davies had reduced the running time to under three hours, the local press accused them of robbing the drama of gravitas.

Nonsense! O’Neill’s poetic soul is intact, and Spacey, as the alcoholic Jim Tyrone, gives a gloriously entertaining, technically superb performance. Spacey’s trademark secrecy and slickness – the qualities that some American reviewers seem to resent – are more obviously suited to Hickey in O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, which Spacey brought to Broadway in 1999. But his Jim is a completely defensible interpretation. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs a drink.

Moon takes place on a rundown Connecticut farm in 1923. O’Neill’s signature dichotomies are intact: the light-dark theme, for example, is rarely absent, though the lunar effect is a little weak on Bob Crowley’s rustic, shanty- centred set.

But the illusion-reality contrasts are brought out credibly by the main actors: Colm Meaney as the pig farmer Phil Hogan; Eve Best as his hulking daughter, Josie; and
Spacey as their drunken landlord.

Though I was grateful for the brisk tempo of this evening, it did not banish my dissatisfaction with the playwright’s storytelling. Much of that frustration is the fault of alcohol – in order to get to the soul- baring revelations that seem always to constitute O’Neill’s climaxes, the main characters have to be drunk. And so it is here.

In a magnificent, sodden aria, Jim reveals that, like Stephen Dedalus, he wronged his dying mother: bringing her corpse home on a train, Jim consorted with a blonde prostitute.

Best, who bears a resemblance to the singer K.D. Lang, makes of the Demeter-like Josie a memorable Broadway debut. She overdoes the loud clodding about the farm, and her mannerisms can be fussy. But she is earthily sexy.
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