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O’Neill: Giving a Voice to the Outcasts

When most people think of Eugene O’Neill, great monologues of pain and woe pop up. Long diatribes of discontent and dark secrets unfurl. So often overlooked are his massive waves of humor and riotous jubilation.

The ability to join the outcasts, the people he admired the most in the world, and connect them in a way that goes beyond the average. Even the unlikeliest of folks. They need one another. They commune and knock one another about, joke and laugh from deep within as they try to buoy themselves amidst their pain and struggle. He gives voice to the treading, the longing, the hope, the love, the passion, the humor, and the pain — all mixed into a delicious workout of an evening. A Moon for the Misbegotten has it all and then some. It was his last play. Maybe he needed to write this play to finally rest?

Actor, singer, and athlete Paul Robeson (1898–1976).

Moon is an homage to his brother, Jamie, as seen through the journey of the character Jim Tyrone. A last attempt to understand Jamie’s pain, his lack of acceptance in a world he so wanted entrance into and his need to continually pay a price for the past. It’s a tribute to all the souls that carry that weight and then some. For our production, we dove into the life and times of Paul Robeson and several other Black actors who gained great notoriety as far as the bigotry of the American stage and screen would allow but were also still subjected to the violence of white supremacy and laws that denied them some of the most basic human rights. How did these add to the weight already carried by our Jim Tyrone?

Along with Jim, O’Neill gives us the Hogans, a bold representation of all the outcasts, literally and figuratively. Especially all the women, embodied in the wild strength and compassion of Josie. All the forgotten people from all the forgotten places where O’Neill, like Jim, felt more at home than anywhere. These unlikely three seek one another on the rocky and rural land that Jim rents to the Hogans; a place completely detached from the everyday world in so many ways. Vigorous banter and deep confessions ensue leaving them forever changed, even if the daily grind stays the same.

O’Neill spent his career trying to untangle he and his family’s behaviors through his writing. He was far from a saint, leaving several women and children in his wake, and if one reads his works, you can clearly see the root. From an infant brother’s death, to a tortured father who was never quite accepted and a mother whose soul was broken in two, to an addiction that plagued them all, he yearned to know, “Why?” He paid a large price for this never-ending quest to understand. It wore his soul to the bone. As Jim Tyrone waxes poetic in Moon, “There is no present or future – only the past, happening over and over again – now.”

What happens when we carry the past with us? When we continue to pump past mistakes, worn down stories and negative dialogue through our hearts and minds? What happens when we finally choose to put those stories down? Even if it’s just one, even if it’s a tiny one?

After moving through the pain, what happens when we finally let go?