A Moon For The Misbegotten, by Eugene O’Neill
Although this is not the author’s best-known play, and although it has a lot of very cringeworthy elements (more about this anon), there is a lot about this play to appreciate. Without having any particularly sympathetic characters, a characteristic problem of the author’s plays, there is nonetheless a lot of very poignant material here that relates to the author’s own life and his own approach to the theater. With a small cast and a very narrow setting, this is a play that allows the author to explore the interior life and contradictions of the various characters and their ineffectual attempts at reaching out beyond their experience in order to build intimacy. Without sharing in the characteristic vices of the main characters of the play, there is a lot in this play I am able to relate to as both an observer of the suffering of others and the unhappiness of experiencing the tension between fear and longing when it comes to expanding beyond life as we have experienced it. This play is a poignant reminder that those who have become accustomed to a particular sort of experience have a hard time moving beyond it and overcoming it, something we ought to keep in mind when it comes to judging others and the way they live their lives.
The play itself is about 100 pages and is divided into four acts. In the first act we see Josie help her brother escape and make his own way in the world, while not viewing his current state very highly, and then charming with her irate father and dealing with their landlord Jim Tyrone and someone who wants to buy the property. In the second act we see Josie talk with her drunk father while she is waiting (so far in vain) for Jim to show up and cuddle with her. In the third act Tyrone shows up and there is a long conversation in which both of them struggle to go beyond their decadence and seek a genuine relationship with the other that is not sexual in nature, but something that might be recognized by themselves and others as a form of love. The fourth act shows the characters returned as before, only without a great deal of hope that anything will improve, or that there will be intimacy for each other to move beyond the phony relationships and playacting that they have known in their dealings with others.
Indeed, the center of this play is the emotionally incestuous relationship between Phil and Josie Hogan. Father and daughter share a love of tricking others and a lot of hostile but loving verbal banter. Josie is portrayed as a bit of a slattern and a slut, and Phil is one of those alcoholic ne’er-do-wells. Meanwhile, Jim Tyrone is hostile to his father and sees in Josie something pure despite her highly sexual and provocative behavior. Josie hopes for love but lacks the faith that anyone could love her, so she does not act necessarily very lovable. Both her and Jim are truly misbegotten in that their troubling relationships with their fathers prevents them from having intimate and warm relationships with others or being able to truly move on from the past. There is a lot of insight here in the way that people can idealize the relationships that others have with parents and the subtle ways in which parents can greatly harm their children through emotionally complicated relationships which hinder children from forming their own ties with someone as a potential spouse. One wonders how much the author’s own experience with his family gave him insight to the harm that alcoholism and related emotional struggles cause to children growing up in such families.