The sluttish earth-mother figure and the doomed, self-destructive wastrel have appeared before in Eugene O'Neill's plays; some day--if it has not happened already--a Freudian scholar will write a book confirming our suspicions as to what these figures meant to their creator. Meanwhile, here they are again, livid with agony, struggling to find more than a painful, temporary peace in one another's arms.
The wastrel is again James Tyrone, the elder brother who haunted his way through Long Day's Journey into Night: now, he is measurably nearer to the grave which is his best hope. The slut (this time paradoxically endowed with a strange secret of virginity) is a huge, slatternly girl, both proud and ashamed of her physical bulk and power.
In the third of the play's four acts they come together in front of the ramshackle farmhouse where the girl lives, and he confesses, in a long, anguished monologue, the most tormenting of his guilty secrets. This scene and the one that follows and resolves it are the best parts of the evening; once Jim Tyrone begins to open his heart, A Moon for the Misbegotten becomes and stays interesting. But somehow it never becomes as powerful or haunting as might be expected from the combination of this author and these themes. The old O'Neill faults, on the other hand, are much in evidence: the play is rambling, uneven, unfocussed, and couched largely in outdated slang.
For a change, however, the first couple of acts abound in comedy: not bad stuff, though nothing a real comic dramatist need be particularly proud of, and spoiled because the characters find it funnier than the audience.
The comic scenes center around Josie-the-slattern's rascally old Irish father, who is played by Arthur Malet with a nicely integrated and polished collection of mannerisms indicating rascality and eld. It would be a brilliant performance, except that it is a bit too carefully styled and a bit too lovable to be thoroughly at home in O'Neill's harshly realistic play. Moreover--unaccountably, in view of his obvious skills--Mr. Malet is not very funny.
Robin Howard (Josie) and David Hooks (Jim) lack the aptitude for character work that these early scenes demand, and Michael Murray's direction, competent for the most part, does not make good the deficiency. Miss Howard works at being a great big slob with more assiduity than conviction. Mr. Hooks, charged with the equally difficult task of erecting a convincing facade around Jim's lunar desolation, elects a vaudeville entertainer's spring step and circus-barker patter; but it is the actor, not the character, who seems not quite able to bring it off.
If Miss Howard and Mr. Hooks are somewhat weak in technique, they are strong in feeling. Their long love scene together is not particularly moving (which seems to be O'Neill's fault), but it is convincingly played.
Miss Howard, Mr. Hooks, and Mr. Malet represent the new dispensation at the Charles, which has taken to bringing in New York actors of some reputation. (The mainstays of their former permanent company have gone to seek their fortunes in New York.) The improvement over the recent, thrown-together productions on Warrenton Street is noticeable, and, as they say, it augurs well.