Eugene O’Neill’s final play wows KCAT patron

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By Bob Evans

Depend on Kansas City Actors Theatre to present seldom produced classic plays with top local talent, beautiful sets, outstanding sound, dramatic lighting, strong directing, and challenging content for local audiences.

“Moon for the Misbegotten,” Eugene O’Neill’s swan song, does not disappoint with its dialogue, unique characters, and intense story-telling, and heart-breaking revelations.

The play opens with a main character, Josie Hogan helping her youngest brother, Mike, make his escape from his drunken Irish father’s hold in hopes of finding a real life and have at least a hope of future happiness. Obvious from the opening dialogue, the crusty Hogan family build a tough nature and presence, hiding the tenderness of their hearts. While Josie teases and torments Mike, the love between the two is heart-wrenching. Josie knows she will never see her brother again just like the older two who fled earlier to avoid their over-bearing father.

Josie knows she will now, alone, face her father’s brutality, but she also knows him to be mostly bluster and bully behavior. To meet his tough exterior, she assails herself as a wild woman with a bad reputation throughout the Connecticut town. She brandishes her loose morals and meets her father’s brash exterior but from a woman’s perspective.

As they bicker and quarrel, the audience begins to understand the deep connection between the two and the idea that each are conniving, dishonest individuals caring nothing for those they harm. After Mike’s departure, Josie and Phil Hogan must find a way to survive and maintain their humble circumstances.

The plot thickens as James Tyrone, Jr. enters the picture as the landlord who allow them to remain in his dilapidated house. The story takes place in the early 1920s and centers on the three central characters, Phil, Josie, and James.

Sadness and gloom hang in the air as Josie’s chances for a suitable husband rests on James. Phil’s future remains shadowed by the idea that James might sell the property to the rich neighbor who would evict him. James, a hopeless alcoholic reveals his insecurity and shadow of his mother’s death and his attitude and treatment of women since her death.

With all this sadness, pain, and despair facing them, the audience finds the goodness within as the layers of the characters develop in the play. The O’Neill dialogue twists the language to evoke the most from each word.

For this production, KCAT placed the lead roles in the competent hands of Victor Raider-Wexler, Ashley Pankow, and Brian Paulette. As the resumes grow and they continue to find nuances for each character they play, Paulette and Raider-Wexler never fail to deliver.

As for Pankow, “Moon for the Misbegotten” gave her an extremely complex character, Josie, to create. And, in this production Pankow deliver a blockbuster performance more intricate, complex, layered that previously shows. Her character of Josie comes off at brash, harsh, unforgiving, devil-may-care slut. As the show progresses the audience sees far beyond that as she slowly develops the hurricane force she begins with and calms to a fragile, tender, blossom so easily crushed. Her performance astounds. Her levels just lead the audience into the heart and soul of Josie.

As Phil, the patriarch who drives his kids away with his cruel demeanor, Raider-Wexler conquers this part with his cunning, scheming, drunken character. He’s vile, evil, comic, and unforgiving in this character. Yet, even with all the negatives, Raider-Wexler makes the character vulnerable and somewhat likeable. While spewing the most angry tirades, the twinkle never leaves his eye. With the Irish accent, he’s an ornery leprechaun spinning his lies to escape his reality.

Re-creating the role of James from “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” Paulette’s character is now about 10 years older and a certified alcoholic. His darkness hinges on the previous play as the son of an addict. In “Moon for the Misbegotten,” Paulette’s character cannot come to grips with his mother’s death and his reaction after it. His alcohol, his lustful use of Broadway sluts, and disregard for women in general torment him, although he continues that path. As he play develops his shell slowly cracks and reveals the tender persona inside, who suffers, questions, and seeks solace from Josie, who becomes his blessed virgin. His eyes, though clouded with alcohol, see beyond the hard shells of the Hogan family and finally allows Josie to comfort his painful past.

Beyond the three characters Chris Roady and recent MFA graduate from UMKC, Charlie Spillers round out the cast. Spillers brief opening scene as Michael delivers the backdrop and character lines that explain how and why the other brothers have fled the abusive Phil. His scene with Josie helps establish her character as well. Though one scene, Spillers shows his talent with accent and in creating a rounded character for the play. For the neighbor and nemesis to Phil Hogan, Chris Roady provides a brief respite to the scheming Phil Hogan as he becomes the target of Hogan’s ire and the character on which James torments the drunken Hogan. Both actors deliver strong characterization, although only briefly on stage.

The production team includes Gary Mosby (Scenic Designer), Emily Stovall (Costume Designer), Shane Rowse (Lighting Designer), Jonathan Robertson (Sound Designer), and Kyle Dyck (Technical Director). The technical aspects could not be more stunning. The set design, lighting, costume and sound match with precision and give the production an sweet elegance to contrast the harsh dialogue and characters of the play. Bravo to the technical team.

KCAT Artistic Chair John Rensenhouse says that after KCAT produced “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” to great acclaim in 2013, it was just a matter of time before “A Moon for the Misbegotten” followed. “Brian (Paulette), who played Jamie Tyrone in ‘Long Day’s Journey,’ was absolutely brilliant in the role and wanted to continue his exploration of that character with ‘Moon,’” said Rensenhouse. “Our production, then, became a matter of timing, and now is the time! Brian has a few more years of maturity on him and our focus on classics and modern classics has us anxious to, once again, produce a work by the playwright that many consider to be America’s greatest.”
“A Moon for the Misbegotten” performs at Union Station’s City Stage. Previews start Sept. 12, opening night will be Sept. 15, and performances will conclude on Sept. 30. Audience talk-backs will follow performances on Sept. 16, 19, and 28.

Tickets are between $28 and $47 and are available by contacting the Central Ticket Office at 816-235-6222 or online at KCAT website.

Tags: KCAT, Union Station, City Stage, Moon for the Misbegotten, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment

Images courtesy of Kansas City Actors Theatre, Mike Tsai/KCAT and Bob Evans

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