Thursday, November 4, 2010

Half Moon

I'm sure you've already heard the "hook" of the Nora Theatre's production of Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten (sorry, had to pull the photo for the show, because its photographer - Elizabeth Stewart - has been a huge pain in the ass).  And Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Irish lass at the center of the piece is played by an African-American (the talented Ramona Lisa Alexander). What is the world comin' to, etc!

Well, I don't know the answer to that question, but as long as the Nora is happy to cast A Raisin in the Sun with white folks, I suppose there's no problem with this approach (although somehow I don't think they are).  As Hub Review readers know, I'm a strong advocate of color-blind casting in general; still, some plays are so associated with a certain culture or milieu that one does raise an eyebrow at fiddling with that context. And O'Neill is very specific about his context here - an Irish farmstead in 30's Connecticut - and director Richard McElvain seems to have no interest in tweaking that set-up in the least.

Although of course it's fun that a black lady should be playing one of the Irish, I suppose, many of whom in times gone by were notorious for their racism; and it was definitely a kick watching Terry Byrne, in the pages of the Globe, do back-flips to show how down she was with all this, after years of bowing and scraping to South Boston in the pages of the Herald.  Meanwhile the fact that Ms. Alexander was playing against Will McGarrahan, a stalwart of the gay-oriented SpeakEasy Stage, seemed like so much icing on the multi-cult cake - and left me hoping the supporting cast might be filled out with Asians and Latinos, all sporting accents from Killarney.

But no such luck.  And alas, Ms. Alexander is actually not all that sure of her accent, nor does she have an abundance of chemistry with Billy Meleady, the real-life Irishman who plays her Da (perhaps partly because Meleady doesn't really have as much scabrous fun with the part as he might). For much of the production's first half, it's only intermittently engaging, and seems like hardly a patch on the powerful Merrimack version of a year or two ago.

But Ms. Alexander has a lock on at least one aspect of the role - she's got the earth-mother thing that the play demands going big-time.  Whenever Alexander braces herself, hands on hips, legs planted far apart, those legs seem to stretch right into the ground - she looks rooted; and when she embraces her drunken, fallen suitor, you can indeed believe that poor Jamie Tyrone (and poor Eugene O'Neill) might have found solace in her arms. Meanwhile McGarrahan goes to very dark and desolate places as the ruined, alcoholic, sacrilegious Jamie, and he does so almost off-handedly, so that his performance, though perhaps lacking in believable sexual bravado, slowly becomes intensely poignant. And Alexander matches him, beat for beat. By the time the sun rises on this long, perhaps-redemptive night (an effect brought off beautifully by lighting designer Margo Caddell), Alexander and McGarrahan have taken us to the heart of the matter, as it were. Which is where any production of A Moon for the Misbegotten wants to end, however it gets there.

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