BY CARY GINELL
A Moon For the Misbegotten is playwright Eugene O’Neill’s last published work, a story of vulnerability, passion, humor, and torment. Written as a loose sequel to A Long Day’s Journey Into Night, the play features the recurring character Jim Tyrone, and summons up the last years of O’Neill’s own alcoholic older brother. The play takes place on a rural Connecticut farm, where the sins of Tyrone, a failed actor-turned-landlord, collide with an Irish working class farmer’s daughter named Josie Hogan. The relationship between these two in Act II is one of the most profoundly moving in all of theatrical literature.
Rebekah Tripp plays the role of Josie, a character that is very close to her heart. Hailing from Chicago, Rebekah grew up as a product of the Chicago suburbs before spending much of her career in improv. We spoke about her character before Thursday night’s performance.
VCOS: Did any of your work in improv prepare you for your working on your playing Josie?
REBEKAH: Yes, I think that improv, for me, has been something that has been very paramount to my theater work because it allows the flexibility, the malleability to the moment, and it also is something that really encourages the actor to stay present. In improv, you accept what’s going on in the moment. If you hear a siren, you work that into the scene, if something happens in the audience, you have to pay attention to it. So it does allow you to accept what’s going on and roll with it, which I think is so crucial because like life, in the theater, you never know what’s going to happen.
VCOS: Tell me how you deal with things that are not in the script, those nuances in between the lines, reactions, and maybe improvisational things that you have to play around with to help round out your character.
REBEKAH: I think those in between moments have a lot to do with the relationship between whomever is on stage, whether it’s two or three actors, it really has to do with the compromise and the sense of play and back-and-forthness that the actors have. With this cast, we have a wealth of communication, which is great because everybody is so dedicated to the message of the play and what we’re trying to bring to life each moment. So in those moments that are “in between,” the simplest terms that you can put it in is best, and the best thing one can do is just listen. When I’m listening, that’s when I’m the most “in it” and the most present. That’s when I’m able to give the most and receive the most, and I’m the most honest because I’m really engaged.
VCOS: Since the words are Eugene O’Neill’s, is there a certain amount of reverence so that you pay closer attention to every single word you have to say he’s writing?
REBEKAH: I think so. The beauty of it is that his words are really breathtaking. You work on stuff and sometimes you overwork the language. But with O’Neill, it kind of demands a backing off, and just delivering the lines sometimes is enough. We had a matinee today and a question that we got from audience members was “How do you get to places you need to be at;” if there’s emotion, how do you get there? And of course, there are many layers of that, but I think with O’Neill, especially, and with other beautiful playwrights, a lot of that comes from just really saying the lines, saying these beautiful words that were written because they get you on their own. So I have a huge respect for what he’s done with this play. It’s been one of my favorites for years.
VCOS: Do you have it in the back of your head that he’s dealing with what happened to his brother with this show or do you try and put that out of your mind?
REBEKAH: No. I put it out of my mind. I’ve only started thinking about it when we’re in a question-and-answer talkback session. This play is such a lovely piece because it speaks to love in all forms and I think we’ve all got things that we’ve gone through that can kind of plug in and hook in to the elements of this play. So i think that kind of matriculates through. The heart with which he wrote it and the fullness with which he wrote it is so evident that it just explodes. When I do think about what he was writing, I don’t know if it’s factual or not, but Jenny read somewhere that the last lines that Josie says, the last lines that he wrote for the play, were really kind of a dedication to his brother.
VCOS: I think that last line was “May you rest forever in forgiveness and peace.”
REBEKAH: Yes, and when you reflect upon that, it just breaks your heart, it really breaks your heart.
VCOS: In Act II, it almost appears as if there are three characters, Josie, James, and alcohol. Alcohol plays a very strong role in this show, can you tell me how you work with that aspect as maybe even a third character?
REBEKAH: I think it’s difficult because I know Joseph Fuqua, who plays James, has that journey to go on and there are a lot of complexities and layers that he has to go through as well, because it is. It’s so present, it’s so much a part of who he is by now at his stage of his life. Josie is coming to terms with a brokenness, that he is fully in the arms of this disease and it’s something that I don’t think she is fully aware of that state that he is in at the beginning of the top of Act II. I don’t think she understands on that deep level what that really means in terms of his spirit and how broken that is, and how he is gone already. I think she comes to terms with that and I think it’s more about what is left and what she can do for him in this place that he is in now. But he is fully aware of it and speaks to it several times. Once Josie gets that, I definitely think that it’s then about reconciling or helping him reconcile the last bits of what he needs out of this life, and that is forgiveness and love and peace.
VCOS: Was Josie fully formulated in your head when the show opened or has this been a growing process for you to fill out her part?
REBEKAH: I’m a big believer in the fact that there’s always more to learn and more growing to do. As I said, this show has been a favorite of mine for years and years, and Josie is a particular favorite of mine and it’s a dream to get to do this. I’m so grateful for the opportunity. I feel a lot of myself in Josie and a lot of Josie in me, and I think that kinship I have with her really helps me hook into who she is. Starting work on this production and feeling out the relationship, it helps tremendously to have that. We worked on that and fine-tuned it and still are today. The same goes for everyone else in the show. At this point, I feel very comfortable with her. That said, you never know what’s going to happen, what people are coming into, what’s working and what’s not. It’s such a bear of a play. But when it opened, I definitely had a firm grip, but am continually trying to evolve into her and really flesh her out with every other performance that we do.
VCOS: How did Jenny Sullivan help you with your character?
REBEKAH: There’s so much. She’s such an amazing tour guide. She’s very simple and honest in her direction. I think the delicate balance with Josie is the cover mask of her really pure soul that’s really innocent in a lot of ways. She’s a vulnerable woman and for Jenny, it was her bits of wisdom and advice that were really helpful because she really helped me walk that line, reminding me where it’s important to cover, where it’s necessary for her survival to cover, where it’s part of the plot for Josie to cover, and also the times where it slips and that’s where it really costs Josie a lot when those slips happen. It really does wound her in a very deep place and so Jenny was helping me walk that line to find that balance.
A Moon for the Misbegotten plays through April 6 at the Rubicon Theatre Company. For dates and showtimes, see the VC On Stage Calendar.