Fans at the Old Vic

Trip to the Moon
Simone Ziegert
Friday, 15th of September.

End of waiting. Tonight, Kevin Spacey will be on the stage again. Although I will fly to London in two weeks, I couldn’t resist the temptation of the First Preview. I listen to the traffic news at 7:45, shortly before I’d enter the motorway. Stop-and-go between Helmstedt-center and Helmstedt-west due to a heavy goods vehicle’s break down. I drive through the city to Helmstedt-west. The next traffic news at 8 am doesn’t mention the HGV anymore. Well then. The sun shines brightly and it’s fluent traffic.

I arrive at the airport Hanover in a good temper and about a cigarette’s length before check-in begins. As greeting, there’s an announcement saying that the airport fire department carries out a drill in the western part and there’s no reason to worry. I check in my suitcase containing toothpaste and deodorant as flight baggage and grant myself a breakfast for 4.50 Euros. To cut the rolls I get a cardboard knife. It’s rather drilling than cutting.

It’s dead at the gate. The flight is not fully booked. An older gentleman passes me with a seeking expression in his face. Obviously, he’s looking for more than this little cafeteria at the corner. Then he thinks to have found it and opens a glass door. No good idea. That’s the emergency exit. An alarm goes off. The young waitress at the cafeteria fights not to burst out in laughter. Three security officers try to calm the sensor. Minutes later a fourth officer joins them, and eventually the alarm gives up.

Later, in the aircraft, I find the older gentleman sitting directly in front of me. He wants to go to Canada. The steward explains to him he must not leave the security area in London. I wonder if he’ll manage. I buy a ticket for the underground at Heathrow. The ticket machine says it takes credit cards only. But doesn’t accept mine. It takes me a moment to realize that I’m trying to push my credit card into the slot for banknotes. The ticket machine is peeved because it lasts that long and I’m asked to start the procedure again. Luckily this is no ticket machine of the Deutsche Bahn, so it’s done quickly.

In Picadilly Line, a funny man sits vis-à-vis perusing a book. He wears a cowboy hat, a colorful scarf, and a blue-white-checkered shirt protrudes from beneath his yellow shirt’s collar. In addition he has worn out jeans, and his bare feet stick in blue moccasins. From time to time he looks up reflecting or ticks off a line with a sharp pencil. At Southwark, I buy a sandwich, something to drink and a map, that contains even the street of my hostess´ in October. I check in at the hotel. It is 13:45 o´clock local time and after having the sandwich, I grant myself a nap. Afterwards I could walk at the banks of the river Thames.

When I wake up, outside it’s all grey. Hmm. No walk then. I have an appointment with Robin in the lobby at 16:45. I leave my room and bump into her immediately. She’s got her room vis-à-vis. We join Andrew in the lobby and go to the theater. I want to collect my tickets. One of two desks is closed although a young man sits behind it. The lady at the opened desk is just trying to verify some credit card payment by telephone for a couple waiting in suspense. It takes a while, so she waves for other queuing people to collect tickets for this evening. The man in front of me is meaning well by sending me to the desk. But I don’t want a ticket for tonight only. Actually I want some more for September and December. I’m asked to queue again. Okay. After a while, the young man at the second desk opens it. I have already my ticket for tonight. “What do you want from me then?” he asks bewildered. A lot, I think, and while I’m searching for proper English words, the lady from the other desk helps me out. Then I overhear her explaining to a customer, that there’s no guarantee on the tickets purchase, that Kevin Spacey will be on stage.

I have a glimpse at the casting list at the wall besides and at second place, the first name is definitely longer then five letters. My blood runs cold. Could it be true that Mr. Spacey left the First Preview to his understudy? That would be…not amusing. Then I buy my first tickets as a member of the Old Vic Club – it’s for The Entertainer next spring. Now I have a closer look at casting list. Alas, it’s in order of appearance, and the fourth entry is Jim Tyrone – Kevin Spacey. Sigh. There’s a weight off my mind.

We go downstairs to the Pit bar, but it’s still closed. However, we’re allowed to take a seat, and I am confirmed: smoking is still allowed here. That’s fine. Shortly before six o’clock, we march the few meters to the Lower Marsh to La Barca where I booked a table. I decide on delicious Tagliatelle Carbonara. The dominant waitress puts the napkin on my lap. I wanted to go for the Lady´s. Robin as a convinced vegetarian nibbles at her green salad and a slice of garlic bread. That’s not my taste.

Then we go to the Old Vic to see A Moon For The Misbegotten. The play by Eugene O´Neill is placed on a poor farm in Connecticut in 1923, when America is ruled by prohibition and depression. Lots of whiskey and earthy sense of Irish humor dominate the play. However, it’s no comedy by far. Josie, the farmer’s daughter, is fallen secretly in love to the second-rate Broadway-actor Jim. She can’t imagine that this womanizer could be interested in her. Then there’s this romantic moonlight night. But he doesn’t want the usual pleasure, but a rather loving and forgiving mother.

Finally Josie gives him the love he wants, because she loves him, and lets him leave for good – because she loves him. I had hoped deeply after seeing the play in Leipzig earlier this year that the Josie -performer might be better in London. It is much more than this. Her name is Eve Best, and she is “simply the Best”. This woman stands on stage during the total running time of about three hours (excluding the interval), and she is breathtaking. I’m amazed right from the start. What an actress! She’s able to show all nuances of Josie’s emotions. I don’t find myself watching Eve Best for a single moment. There is Josie.

I’m so happy about this cast. Colm Meaney is better known to Deep-Space-Nine (Star Trek) fans. As a trueborn Irishmen, the part of Josie’s father Phil Hogan seems to be tailored for him. This man is a chiseller with rough humor but a good heart. After about twenty minutes, Jim Tyrone comes on stage from far behind. Now, I would like to give away the first gag, but some of my readers might go to the Old Vic themselves, and I don’t want to spoil them.

So much for this: I’ve read the play in German as well as in English and I’ve seen it in German (Leipzig) as well as in English (Broadway-TV-production, starring Jason Robards), and no-one had the idea to perform these two Latin lines in a way that made me cracking up laughing. One woman in the audience seems to be especially amused. She even laughs loudly at moments, the rest of the audience doesn’t consider to be funny. In the sold out house, this is a quota of 1:1000.

Perhaps I should mention that I had originally tickets for the front row. I had been so happy. But due to the set, two additional tiers are installed now. Well, I am happy they can sell more tickets. By the way, the set looks somewhat cheapy. The wooden shed seems rather painted. That blue sky projected to the walls appears also somewhat faked. But I totally forget about this first impression because I am captured by the performance. In the interval, a German couple behind me complains about not getting Meaney´s lines. No surprise. An Irish drunk speaks rarely Oxford English.

At curtain fall, they are bringing down the house. Eve Best is really happy. Then Kevin Spacey signals the end by clapping his hands to the audience. The applause dies out immediately.

We leave the theatre. I meet Robin and Andrew at the stage door. A lively Dutchman is already waiting there and begs us to take a picture of him and Mr. Spacey. Andrew does him the favour. About twenty people gather around. Then a homeless person emerges, begging for money and threatens us, he’d be the first at the hatch. “I’ll catch Kevin Spacey before all of you!” he calls.

Most people avert their eyes. Two men think if they give some bargain, they would get rid of him. He has his share of the Americans, he was wounded in the Gulf war, he says. Now he stands right in front of me and looks me straight into the eyes. If I’d like to have his autograph.

He’s a human being as well. Somehow he’s right. And he’s obviously not drunk. His face is scarred and the upper incisors are missing. Again he asks for a Pound Sterling. When he realises me taking out my wallet, he ups the ante to twenty Pounds. I give him the one.

When the hatch opens, the little Dutchman jumps to Kevin Spacey, immediately grasps his hand and pulls it outside, turning to Andrew and grinning into the lens of his camera. Take one more, he commands. Mr. Spacey seems to be slightly confused. I am slightly sour. I think, this Dutchman actually wants to confirm the prejudices about his compatriots demeanor abroad. What a shame. Then it’s our homeless persons turn. He asks something I can’t get beside the movie title “The Negotiator”. Mr. Spacey denies, saying he has nothing left. He answered level headed and politely. The homeless man however wants obviously more.

Then Mr. Spacey has enough. He takes the young man’s upper arm and pushes him not rudely, but decidedly aside and pays his attention demonstratively to me. I am happy that it didn’t close the hatch. He spots my equipment and wants the pencil, but first of all I shake hands thanking him for the evening. Not only for his performance. As an artistic director, he has chosen the play and the director and were involved in the casting. Then I thank him for the fan meeting in Recklinghausen and hand out the photo. His face certainly brightens. I send Marion´s regards and let him know that Sonja can’t afford to come to the Old Vic because she’s a student, and I’d need his help to surprise her. Would he sign the poster for her? Of course! What was the name?

Well, enough, there’re other people queuing. I hold the casing of the permanent writer and Mr. Spacey tries to insert the pen. Damned, I’m trembling! Ouch. By the third attempt, I interrupt the process, confessing I’m too nervous and take the open pen back, getting an indulgent smile from the gentleman, thanking him again and leave.

Artfully, Robin persuaded Andrew to let Mr. Spacey sign the photo in the film magazine she brought for me. Now there you can read “To Simone. Thank you. Kevin Spacey “. Ah.

Afterwards we go for another drink in the Pit Bar. There is one reserved table for the actors and their friends. Next to me, Talulah Riley leans at the wall and chats with her boyfriend. Behind Robin, David Liddiment stands and speaks to a young man, of whom I am not certain, whether he played the Harder or not. I’m terrible in recognizing faces. It is my second whiskey and about midnight when Kevin Spacey comes downstairs.

Jeans, dark short jacket, the hat backwards as usual. He gathers his people for partying. We don’t stay any longer. I am tired. In Germany, it is two o’clock in the morning. I rest really uneasy. Jim Tyrone called it the Heebie-jeebies. Robin gets up for having breakfast with me. Outside it is grey, nevertheless I do the half hour walk to

Liverpool Street station. Stanstedt express departures 8:40. I fly back by Air Berlin.

I’d chosen another airline to be back earlier. My sister celebrates her 50th birthday today. While I check-in I learn about a delay. First it’s only one and a half hours, but when we finally arrive to Hanover – far away from the terminals – the delay is almost three hours. In Halle, we meet some of the remaining guests, the buffet is empty besides some desserts. My son might be not innocent because he’s holding his belly. My sister is delighted by the gift. Well, then everything’s alright unless my condition. I am quite overtired. But I would do it all again.

Best wishes,

Simone Ziegert
(Germany)

JOURNEY ACROSS A DARK SEA : A REVIEW OF “MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN”(Eugene O’Neill) by Cynthia Greenwood

Yesterday morning (Monday Oct 9th) I headed off to London to see the evening performance of “Moon”. London looked beautiful as it always does to me. I strolled through the Peace Garden in Tavistock Square, where people who died in wars are remembered. It reminded me that I’m going to give a talk on the First World War poet Wilfred Owen soon to a creative writing group that I belong to. Then I went to the Royal Academy and saw an exhibition of modern American art. I was happy with these distractions as I was getting apprehensive about seeing the play. The reviews had apparently been good though I hadn’t read any as I don’t read them till after I’ve seen a performance. Would the play and Kevin’s performance live up to my expectations —– ?

“Moon” is not a play which depends on plot or incident so much as on the tense and many-layered relationships between the three main characters. In fact the concept behind the play is deeply personal and moving. The programme tells us that Eugene O’Neill was trying to bring back to life his alcoholic brother as the character Jim Tyrone in the play. He was attempting to give him, through the leading female character Josie, the love and redemption that he could not give him while he was alive. This is worked out as a tormented journey from the start of the play to the end, a slice out of the lives of damaged people which has an apocalyptic power about it.

The set is a battered farm house, run-down and leaning, with farm land all around stressing the isolation of the characters. The lighting is strong and strange – a brilliant, oppressive blue for night and a hot, almost decaying orange for the dawn which emphasizes the tensions within the characters and could also, by it’s almost surreal character, suggest the much broader themes of destruction, life, and redemption in the play. There is a notable lingering on moonlight itself when Josie waits for hours for Jim to meet her and the stage is lovingly suffused by a varying pale and chilly light. At first we think this is indeed the moon of lovers’ dreams but the light becomes increasingly cold as the audience waits with Josie. We have to remember that the moon is changeable. It may be called upon by people to feed their dreams but it is also the chilly, detached watcher of our despair.

The choreography throughout is remarkably tight and the movement of characters on the stage and the spaces between them echo the tensions within them. We are often unsure when a character will arrive on stage or leave it and we become anxious. Will Jim come to meet Josie in the moonlight? Will Josie’s father leave so that Josie and Jim can be alone? This tension effectively emphasizes the main verbal anxieties between the characters.

The first act of the play suggests to the viewer that it may develop into a romantic comedy . There are a number of amusing lines as Josie watches her last brother leave the farm and duels verbally with her father. When Jim appears he adds to the wit and he and Josie exchange tender glances. These moments are achieved with moving subtlety by both actors. At this stage we do get the feeling that the two of them are alike in some ways and could have a relationship. Hogan’s plotting and the problem of the sale of the land seem like a comic underplot in an old fashioned romance with an attractive if eccentric heroine and a captivating though flawed hero. It is possible that O’Neill himself so longed to give his brother tender surroundings and love that at the beginning he was wanting to make a comedy or romance of his story. Did he realise at last that he could never redeem his brother unless he accepted what he was and had the courage to go into the darkness with him and therefore this play must in some sense be a tragedy?

So what of the acting? Well, I felt all the cast including the minor parts of Mike Hogan and Harder were superbly played and the acting of everyone was on the same high level. But Eve Best and Kevin Spacey gave such towering performances of overwhelming power and honesty that I was stunned. Eve is warm and capable, trying always to be brave and reasonable and certainly giving the impression by her ability to turn her hand to all things that she is indeed a farmer’s daughter. We feel that her tendency to be strong and controlling is caused by her isolated and sometimes dangerous life and her need to assert herself in a household of men. In the programme Kevin makes a comment about the director, Howard Davies’s ability to support him in exploring the part, “If I am out there in the dark waters, he is my anchor and dock. I know I can tie my boat up with him”. I feel this image of the sea is peculiarly appropriate for the tempestuous emotions seen in the play. Both Jim and Josie’s emotions ebb and flow like waves of the sea, Josie’s with a quieter rhythm than that of Jim’s towering terrors. Her humanity is always there. And Kevin? Well, what can I say . Kevin showed wonderfully how his feelings were disconnected, shifting turbulently from one mood to the next just as they might in an alcoholic and a man haunted by guilt. There is an underlying detachment about him that perfectly conveys a personality damaged by years of drink and guilt which sees things as through a glass window, feeling everything yet unable to touch anything. It is so poignant when he touches Josie’s face and talks of her beautiful eyes yet cannot somehow reach her. Time and again his guilt and confusion rise then ebb before Josie’s offer of comfort only to rise again in a great, terrible wave.. He lurches so convincingly from tenderness to violence that I was almost afraid of him. But all the time there is a heartrending subtle undercurrent of fine bits of a personality that are unrealised. His clever wit and humour and his real gentleness are there and perhaps most of all his almost telepathic understanding of what Josie is. These broken bits of him seemed to float like flotsam on those dark waters. The arguments between the pair ebb and flow with such force that it seems to be not just a domestic tragedy but an apocalyptic statement about the human condition. Kevin produces so many subtly moving moments, but one of the most moving bits for me was when he recites snatches of poetry (Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” being one) so beautifully and you became even more aware what a potentially sensitive mind and personality is being destroyed. Again, I’ll never forget how he turns back to Josie at the end saying “I do remember”. Then they kiss – the first kiss of real feeling but Jim is clutching his hat and coat in his hand and he must go. One excellent aspect of the piece is that sentimentality is avoided. The acting is forceful, terrible, poignant, tender, honest above all things, but never sentimental. This honesty and the violent ebb and flow of feeling made the audience totally caught up in the lives of the characters and you could have heard a pin drop in the theatre. It seemed that the most important thing in the world was Jim and Josie’s fate in their dark ocean.

At the end a lot of people in the theatre were in tears or very shaken. The cast ran on the stage, Kevin looking very pale but smiling. He seemed still full of energy. The audience gave them two standing ovations and cheered. On leaving the theatre everything seemed quite unreal to me – the real world was Jim and Josie’s world! I finally got a taxi back to where I was staying – a very quiet bed and breakfast establishment. It was strange the way my head was full of a storm of emotions that felt like a real thunderstorm while all the rooms, staircases and my own bedroom were so quiet! Now I’ve got home I feel I’ve left something important in the Old Vic! My heart, perhaps — well, enough of that! The power of art should not be underestimated!

In conclusion, everyone who can should try to see this production. Even if you don’t care for Kevin you’ll be amazed at the power of the piece and the acting and if you do care for him you’ll be stunned at his performance .All hail a great director, Howard Davies! As well as being a production of great honesty and artistic integrity it is a fine tribute to Eugene O’Neill who seems to have faced terrible misfortunes with courage and to have tried to use his art to redeem and exorcise demons. The towering humanity and vulnerability of his characters must leave you in awe of his achievement. You will feel humbled and you will learn important things about the human experience.

Cynthia, Manchester, England

~

My Moon Journal by Fan

Went to London to see A Moon for the Misbegotten during its preview week. The flight coming back was delayed for 3 ½ hours at Heathrow. (Ah, all the things we do for Kevin, lol…)

Now let me talk about the play. It’s a stunning production. FYI, there are spoilers in this message.

The set is exquisite and romantic. There is haunting music in the background and, occasionally, you hear the sound of train coming and going. The stage is very deep, twice as deep as most productions I have seen. In fact, the Old Vic stage is so big that it’s enough for musicals.

You can see Jamie coming on the road in the back when he first appears, “like a dead man walking behind his own coffin” says Josie. In fact, a few times you see Jamie walking, or smoking, alone, in the background, like a ghost lost his way home.

Josie is very energetic. She is a tall, strong, rough and healthy farm girl. Her hair is messy and her cheeks rosy. Her voice is strong and beautiful.

Jamie has a very charming and funny opening scene with the Hogans. He seems to be sober but is always thirsty for a drink. Jamie is elegantly dressed, in a summer suit, charismatic. While Josie enjoys talking rough with her father and brother, Jamie likes to quote poetry from time to time. Jamie has a great sense of humor. Somehow, there is this lifelessness in his character that you can sense almost immediately. Josie says kissing Jamie is “like kissing the corpse.” She is very passionate and energetic and will kiss and hug Jamie whenever she has a chance. But Jamie doesn’t respond. It’s heartbroken to watch Josie trying to offer love and life to Jamie, but Jamie is just not interested in life anymore. Jamie rejects her out of his love for her. He is afraid that his grief and anger will “poison” her and “stay poisoned.” You can’t find love nobler than this.

The play is 3 hours long and you wish it would never end, despite the fact that it must be 90 degrees inside the Old Vic that week.

Jamie doesn’t come on for the first 30 minutes. Josie is on stage during the entire play but she didn’t seem tired. Kevin seemed very emotional at the end. His eyes were red at the curtain call.

My favorite scene is, of course, Act III, Jamie’s confession to Josie. It is so DRAMATIC. Kevin sometime shouted like a mad man and sometimes cried like a child. I never knew there could be grief and anger to such level. I was so stunned that I felt I was turning into a stone right there.

Jamie’s emotion is tremendous. At one point, Josie was so frightened while Jamie shouted at her. Then she offered comfort to Jamie, as his mother would have done. They spent the night under the moonlight, with Jamie cried into sleep, in Josie’s arms. That scene was so moving, like Michelangelo’s statue Pieta.

I did watch one rather “odd” performance once. On that night, Josie didn’t seem to be connecting with Jamie consistently. When Jamie poured his sorrow to her, she was not “listening” I dare to say. During Jamie’s confession, at the height of his grief, he collapsed in her arms.

But that one night, Kevin almost fell on the floor. Josie barely caught him. And instead of letting Jamie sleep in her arms, she was barely holding his head. But then the following night, Josie’s performance was different. She was “there” all along, if you know what I mean.

I must say I’m very satisfied with the production. There are other interesting moments. For example, when Josie tried to hide her feelings and appeared indifferent about Jamie, she received this typical Spacey look from Jamie, as if saying “I know you’re lying.” Another moment, close to the end, after Jamie had left and Josie knew she would never see him again. She was talking to her father as if she didn’t care. Then suddenly, she cried out “father, I love him.” I cried at that moment. And I had never cried at any theatre before.

I did some homework before I went to the show. I always want to know the context of a story whenever I can. So before heading to London, I read a few O’Neill biographies and it proved to be a valuable preparation. A Moon is heavily based on O’Neill’s older brother Jamie’s life. Kevin himself is an O’Neill scholar and he is often quoted in O’Neill’s biographies. His portrait of Jim Tyrone brings the context of what happened before and after the night with Josie.

Jim Tyrone is not just a wasted drunk but a man once had ideals. In fact, both O’Neill brothers were well educated. Their father once said, a $35,000 education prepared his sons for a $35 a week paycheck. In the play, Jim would quote poetry from time to time.

Sometimes Kevin does it in a funny way but sometimes poetry brings him nightmare.

The first scene when Jim meets Josie is very seductive. The look he gives Josie is like he can see through her. Josie bluffs a lot in front of him but never for a moment could she fool him. From the way Jim looks at her, the way he casually touches her hair, you get a feeling that Jim indeed loves her very very much. This is particularly satisfying to watch as I always wanted to see Kevin Spacey in a love story. A Moon for the Misbegotten is everything I imagined and could hope for.

Fan October 9, 2006  – Stage door pics here.

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