by Dick Kerekes
Players by the Sea opened four time Pulitzer Prize Winner and Noble Prize Winning Eugene O’Neill’s Moon for the Misbegotten. It will be on stage at l06 Sixth Street in Jacksonville Beach until March 27th. Call 249-0289 or visit their website at www.playersbythesea.org.
The play is set in 1923 in rural Connecticut. It is the story of James Tyrone who rents a small farm to Phil Hogan and his daughter Josie. It is a tragic love story that revolves around the three main characters and how their love for each other is expressed.
Yes, it is basically a tragic play, but O’Neill did have a sense of humor, so the first half of the play is largely comedy with a real comic character. Phil Hogan, Josie’s father who is a cantankerous, hard drinking and sly old Irishman and is much smarter than his frequent bouts with alcohol make him appear. Josie is the unwed, bulky daughter who thinks she is so unattractive that she pretends have had many affairs with the local men folk but later confesses to James Tyrone that she was still a virgin. She is a lost woman but had an indomitable will and does not give in to what appears to be her cruel fate.
James Tyrone is an alcoholic former actor whose only asset is this farm from which he gets little rent and he thinking of selling to the highest bidder rather than keep his promise to sell it to Phil Hogan. Tyrone is attracted to Josie, and she and her father devise a plan to take advantage of him financially. All of this is result in the dynamic second act, when Tyrone is a drunken state confesses his past, and tries to face his demons. It is a dramatic heart wrenching scene in the moon light with Josie holding the wasted Tyrone in her arms who faces the ghosts of his past. He is truly doomed and Josie realizes this.
Though the play revolves around the three principals, there are two smaller important supporting roles. Early in Act 1, Joshua Taylor appears as Mike Hogan, the disgruntled son of Phil, and brother to Josie, who is leaving the farm for good, having put up with his father’s erratic behavior for far too long.
Thomas Trauger is Stedman Harder, a rich neighbor who wants to buy Tyrone’s farm and rid himself of Hogan’s pesky pigs who keep escaping and bathing in a lake on his adjacent property. This is one of the most humorous scenes in the show as Josie and Phil, physically abuse and makes a fool of him. Trauger, one of Jacksonville’s most versatile actors, can play a terrific tough guy and a shy timid rich guy with equal aplomb.
Greg Morgan as Phil Hogan is making his Jacksonville theatre debut, having moved here from the Tampa and Miami area. He is picture perfect for this role and he captures the scurrilous old scalawag to a “T”. Greg’s wife, Nancy is also making her local debut right now at Theatre Jasonville in Our Leading Lady. Some smart theatre group would be wise to get these couple together and hand them a script for the two character play The Gin Game and have a super production for a black box presentation.
Jason Collins as James Tyrone is fabulous. Collins keeps taking on more and more challenging roles as an actor and director and this performance is a tour de force. He does unrepentant drunkenness, right down to the DTs so convincingly you’d swear he is drinking the real stuff on stage (and a lot of it). His long monologue in Act II is brilliantly acted and is mesmerizing.
Josie Hogan is a role of a lifetime, and Zeina Salame treats it like one. Josie is a woman sturdy enough to do a man’s work. She has pride, spirit and a tart tongue but a heart that responds to another’s pain rather than contracting. Hers is an award winning performance if I ever saw one, and a joy to watch.
The play was directed by Gordon Goede who studied under George Ballis back when the theatre program just started at Jacksonville University. He apparently learned his lesson well, as I can see a Ballis’ trademark very evident in this production: excellent diction and projection. Mr. Goede spent 38 years as director and producer of Theatre Three Repertory Company troupe he founded in Fresno California. He directed over 325 productions of every type of play imaginable including opera. He has retired to West Florida and welcomed a chance to come back to his roots to direct this play. We ought to quarantine Mr. Goede to Jacksonville for the next two years so he can direct more.
The magnificent weather-worn old farm house was designed by Director Goede and built by Lee Hamby and crew. Jim Wiggins has created some very evocative lighting, and his “night” scene was very realistic. I am especially grateful for his design because in Act I, some of the light spilled over me allowing me to take notes without using a flash light. Thanks Jim.
Mr. Hamby created the costume and hair design, and we felt we were back in the 1920s. Gayle Featheringill did her usual excellent job of controlling all things back stage.
The first act is 90 minutes long but I was so caught up in O’Neill’s fascinating dialogue it seemed to just zip by. This is a listener’s play, but you will be truly rewarded with a rich theatre experience.
Players by the Sea deserves praise for bringing this milestone of American Theatre to its audiences and to stage it with a cast and direction that is so superb. It is a must see for serious lovers of theatre.