Like his earlier masterpiece, "Long Day's Journey Into Night," Eugene O'Neill's "A Moon for the Misbegotten" has its roots in his family. The former is autobiographical and includes a character based on O'Neill himself, along with his parents and older brother, James, called Jamie Tyrone. The latter is set about 11 years later and concerns just Jamie, now called Jim, whose alcoholism has taken a terrible toll on both his body and his judgment.
In some ways, "A Moon for the Misbegotten" is a requiem for Jim and perhaps a way for O'Neill to forgive him. It's a powerful play, especially in the American Conservatory Theater production sensitively directed by Laird Williamson and featuring Marco Barricelli as Jim and Robin Weigert as Josie Hogan, the woman who loves him and helps him forgive himself.
The play has many more riches than just the interaction between them, however. Josie's father, Phil Hogan (Raye Birk), plays a crucial role in helping her accept Jim's inevitable fate and emerging the better for it. Phil is an irascible Irish immigrant, a tenant on a hardscrabble farm owned by Jim's family in Connecticut. Phil is quick to drink and quick to swing a fist. He's full of blarney. He has been so hard on his sons that the two older ones have already left when the play opens, and the youngest one, Mike (Andy Butterfield), leaves in the first act with Josie's help and blessing. As he goes, he says, "You're two of a kind," referring to Josie and their father. Those words prove to be more accurate than would appear on the surface. That becomes abundantly clear at the end, when Phil's tender, caring side emerges, albeit briefly, but long enough to help Josie.
Weigert and Birk, a former ACT stalwart making a welcome return to the Geary Theater stage, play well together as father and daughter team up to give a hard time to a pompous rich neighbor, T. Stedman Harder (David Arrow). They also give each other a hard time, but their verbal sparring is underlain with unspoken love.
Weigert is a marvelous Josie, a woman who describes herself as large and homely and who allows herself to be regarded as a slut. Her Josie is a multi-faceted woman, as seen in her scenes with her father and especially in the long, cathartic moonlight scene with the drunken, despondent Jim.
Barricelli, too, delivers a richly detailed portrait of Jim, who loathes himself for what he has done to himself and others. However, Josie's love, understanding and forgiveness allow him to reach some peace with himself and to show her that he loves her so much that he can't allow her to hope that they could achieve any kind of happiness together.
Except for Robert Mark Morgan's ugly, abstract set, the production values are strong with costumes by Sandra Woodall, lighting by Don Darnutzer and sound by Garth Hemphill. But the moving performances by Weigert, Barricelli and Birk are what remain etched in the memory.
"Moon for the Misbegotten" also marks Barricelli's farewell to ACT. He has been a core company member and associate artist for several years, but is moving to New York. However, ACT Artistic Director Carey Perloff has made it clear that he's welcome back. His many admirers agree.