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Ben BrantleyHeart-stopping. . . . Eugene O'Neill's great elegiac love story [and] his last completed play.
— New York Times
As described. It is just before noon. The day is clear and hot.
The door of JOSIE's bedroom opens and she comes out on the steps, bending to avoid bumping her head.
JOSIE is twenty-eight. She is so oversize for a woman that she is almost a freak-five feet eleven in her stockings and weighs around one hundred and eighty. Her sloping shoulders are broad, her chest deep with large, firm breasts, her waist wide but slender by contrast with her hips and thighs. She has long smooth arms, immensely strong, although no muscles show. The same is true of her legs.
She is more powerful than any but an exceptionally strong man, able to do the manual labor of two ordinary men. But there is no mannish quality about her. She is all woman.
The map of Ireland is stamped on her face, with its long upper lip and small nose, thick black eyebrows, black hair as coarse as a horse's mane, freckled, sunburned fair skin, high cheekbones and heavy jaw. It is not a pretty face, but her large dark-blue eyes give it a note of beauty, and her smile, revealing even white teeth, gives it charm.
She wears a cheap, sleeveless, bluecotton dress. Her feet are bare, the soles earth-stained and tough as leather.
She comes down the steps and goes left to the corner of the house and peers around it toward the barn. Then she moves swiftly to the right of the house and looks back.
Ah, thank God.
She goes back toward the steps as her brother, mike, appears hurrying up from right-rear.
MIKE HOGAN is twenty, about four inches shorter than his sister. He is sturdily built, but seems almost puny compared to her. He has a common Irish face, its expression sullen, or slyly cunning, or primly self-righteous. He never forgets that he is a good Catholic, faithful to all the observances, and so is one of the élite of Almighty God in a world of damned sinners composed of Protestants and bad Catholics. In brief, MIKE is a New England Irish Catholic Puritan, Grade B, and an extremely irritating youth to have around.
MIKE wears dirty overalls, a sweat-stained brown shirt. He carries a pitchfork.
Bad luck to you for a slowpoke. Didn't I tell you half-past eleven?
How could I sneak here sooner with him peeking round the corner of the barn to catch me if I took a minute's rest, the way he always does? I had to wait till he went to the pig pen.
He adds viciously.
Where he belongs, the old hog!
JOSIE's right arm strikes with surprising swiftness and her big hand lands on the side of his jaw. She means it to be only a slap, but his head jerks back and he stumbles, dropping the pitchfork, and pleads cringingly.
Don't hit me, Josie! Don't, now!
Then keep your tongue off him. He's my father, too, and I like him, if you don't.
Out of her reach-sullenly.
You're two of a kind, and a bad kind.
I'm proud of it. And I didn't hit you, or you'd be flat on the ground. It was only a love tap to waken your wits, so you'll use them. If he catches you running away, he'll beat you half to death. Get your bag now. I've packed it. It's inside the door of my room with your coat laid over it. Hurry now, while I see what he's doing.
She moves quickly to peer around the corner of the house at left. He goes up the steps into her room and returns carrying an old coat and a cheap bulging satchel. She comes back.
There's no sight of him.
MIKE drops the satchel on the ground while he puts on the coat.
I put everything in the bag. You can change to your Sunday suit in the can at the station or in the train, and don't forget to wash your face. I know you want to look your best when our brother, Thomas, sees you on his doorstep.
Her tone becomes derisively amused.
And him way up in the world, a noble sergeant of the Bridgeport police. Maybe he'll get you on the force. It'd suit you. I can see you leading drunks to the lockup while you give them a lecture on temperance. Or if Thomas can't get you a job, he'll pass you along to our brother, John, the noble barkeep in Meriden. He'll teach you the trade. You'll make a nice one, who'll never steal from the till, or drink, and who'll tell customers they've had enough and better go home just when they're beginning to feel happy.
She sighs regretfully.
Ah, well, Mike, you was born a priest's pet, and there's no help for it.
That's right! Make fun of me again, because I want to be decent.
You're worse than decent. You're virtuous.
Well, that's a thing nobody can say about-
He stops, a bit ashamed, but mostly afraid to finish.
About me? No, and what's more, they don't.
She smiles mockingly.
I know what a trial it's been to you, Mike, having a sister who's the scandal of the neighborhood.
It's you that's saying it, not me. I don't want to part with hard feelings. And I'll keep on praying for you.
Och! To hell with your prayers!
He picks up his bag.
Her manner softening.
She comes to him.
Don't mind my rough tongue, Mike. I'm sorry to see you go, but it's the best thing for you. That's why I'm helping you, the same as I helped Thomas and John. You can't stand up to the Old Man any more than Thomas or John could, and the old divil would always keep you a slave. I wish you all the luck in the world, Mike. I know you'll get on-and God bless you.
Her voice has softened, and she blinks back tears. She kisses him-then fumbling in the pocket of her dress, pulls out a little roll of one-dollar bills and presses it in his hand.
Here's a little present over your fare. I took it from his little green bag, and won't he be wild when he finds out! But I can handle him.
You can. You're the only one.
Gratefully moved for a second.
Thank you, Josie. You've a kind heart.
But I don't like taking stolen money.
Don't be a bigger jackass than you are already. Tell your conscience it's a bit of the wages he's never given you.
That's true, Josie. It's rightfully mine.
He shoves the money into his pocket.
Get along now, so you won't miss the trolley. And don't forget to get off the train at Bridgeport. Give my love to Thomas and John. No, never mind. They've not written me in years. Give them a boot in the tail for me.
That's nice talk for a woman. You've a tongue as dirty as the Old Man's.
Don't start preaching, like you love to, or you'll never go.
You're as bad as he is, almost. It's his influence made you what you are, and him always scheming how he'll cheat people, selling them a broken-down nag or a sick cow or pig that he's doctored up to look good for a day or two. It's no better than stealing, and you help him.
I do. Sure, it's grand fun.
You ought to marry and have a home of your own away from this shanty and stop your shameless ways with men.
He adds, not without moral satisfaction.
Though it'd be hard to find a decent man who'd have you now.
I don't want a decent man, thank you. They're no fun. They're all sticks like you. And I wouldn't marry the best man on earth and be tied down to him alone.
With a cunning leer.
Not even Jim Tyrone, I suppose?
She stares at him.
You'd like being tied to money, I know that, and he'll be rich when his mother's estate is settled.
I suppose you've never thought of that? Don't tell me! I've watched you making sheep's eyes at him.
So I'm leading Jim on to propose, am I?
I know it's crazy, but maybe you're hoping if you got hold of him alone when he's mad drunk- Anyway, talk all you please to put me off, I'll bet my last penny you've cooked up some scheme to hook him, and the Old Man put you up to it. Maybe he thinks if he caught you with Jim and had witnesses to prove it, and his shotgun to scare him-
Controlling her anger.
You're full of bright thoughts. I wouldn't strain my brains any more, if I was you.
Well, I wouldn't put it past the Old Man to try any trick. And I wouldn't put it past you, God forgive you. You've never cared about your virtue, or what man you went out with. You've always been brazen as brass and proud of your disgrace. You can't deny that, Josie.
You'd better shut up now. I've been holding my temper, because we're saying good-bye.
She stands up.
But I'm losing patience.
Wait till I finish and you won't be mad at me. I was going to say I wish you luck with your scheming, for once. I hate Jim Tyrone's guts, with his quotin' Latin and his high-toned Jesuit College education, putting on airs as if he was too good to wipe his shoes on me, when he's nothing but a drunken bum who never done a tap of work in his life, except acting on the stage while his father was alive to get him the jobs.
I'll pray you'll find a way to nab him, Josie, and skin him out of his last nickel!
Makes a threatening move toward him.
One more word out of you-
You're a dirty tick and it'd serve you right if I let you stay gabbing until Father came and beat you to a jelly, but I won't. I'm too anxious to be rid of you.
Get out of here, now! Do you think he'll stay all day with the pigs, you gabbing fool?
She goes left to peer around the corner of the house-with real alarm.
There he is, coming up to the barn.
MIKE grabs the satchel, terrified. He slinks swiftly around the corner and disappears along the path to the woods, right-rear. She keeps watching her father and does not notice MIKE'S departure.
He's looking toward the meadow. He sees you're not working. He's running down there. He'll come here next. You'd better run for your life!
She turns and sees he's gone-contemptuously.
I might have known. I'll bet you're a mile away by now, you rabbit!
She peeks around the corner again-with amused admiration.
Look at my poor old father pelt. He's as spry on his stumpy legs as a yearling-and as full of rage as a nest of wasps!
She laughs and comes back to look along the path to the woods.
Well, that's the last of you, Mike, and good riddance. It was the little boy you used to be that I had to mother, and not you, I stole the money for.
This dismisses him. She sighs.
Well, himself will be here in a minute. I'd better be ready.
She reaches in her bedroom corner by the door and takes out a sawed-off broom handle.
Not that I need it, but it saves his pride.
She sits on the steps with the broom handle propped against the steps near her right hand. A moment later, her father, PHIL HOGAN, comes running up from left-rear and charges around the corner of the house, his arms pumping up and down, his fists clenched, his face full of fighting fury.
HOGAN is fifty-five, about five feet six. He has a thick neck, lumpy, sloping shoulders, a barrel-like trunk, stumpy legs, and big feet. His arms are short and muscular, with large hairy hands. His head is round with thinning sandy hair. His face is fat with a snub nose, long upper lip, big mouth, and little blue eyes with bleached lashes and eyebrows that remind one of a white pig's. He wears heavy brogans, filthy overalls, and a dirty short-sleeved undershirt. Arms and face are sunburned and freckled. On his head is an old wide-brimmed hat of coarse straw that would look more becoming on a horse. His voice is high-pitched with a pronounced brogue.
Stops as he turns the corner and sees her-furiously.
Where is he? Is he hiding in the house? I'll wipe the floors with him, the lazy bastard!
Turning his anger against her.
Haven't you a tongue in your head, you great slut you?
With provoking calm.
Don't be calling me names, you bad-tempered old hornet, or maybe I'll lose my temper, too.
To hell with your temper, you overgrown cow!
I'd rather be a cow than an ugly little buck goat. You'd better sit down and cool off. Old men shouldn't run around raging in the noon sun. You'll get sunstroke.
To hell with sunstroke! Have you seen him?
Have I seen who?
Mike! Who else would I be after, the Pope? He was in the meadow, but the minute I turned my back he sneaked off.
He sees the pitchfork.
There's his pitchfork! Will you stop your lying!
I haven't said I didn't see him.
Then don't try to help him hide from me, or- Where is he?
Where you'll never find him.
We'll soon see! I'll bet he's in your room under the bed, the cowardly lump!
He moves toward the steps.
He's not. He's gone like Thomas and John before him to escape your slave-driving.
Stares at her incredulously.
You mean he's run off to make his own way in the world?
He has. So make up your mind to it, and sit down.
Baffled, sits on the boulder and takes off his hat to scratch his head- with a faint trace of grudging respect.
I'd never dream he had that much spunk.
His temper rising again.
And I know damned well he hadn't, not without you to give him the guts and help him, like the great soft fool you are!
Now don't start raging again, Father.
You've stolen my satchel to give him, I suppose, like you did before for Thomas and John?
It was my satchel, too. Didn't I help you in the trade for the horse, when you got the Crowleys to throw in the satchel for good measure? I was up all night fixing that nag's forelegs so his knees wouldn't buckle together till after the Crowleys had him a day or two.
Forgets his anger to grin reminiscently.
You've a wonderful way with animals, God bless you. And do you remember the two Crowleys came back to give me a beating, and I licked them both?
With calculating flattery.
You did. You're a wonderful fighter. Sure, you could give Jack Dempsey himself a run for his money.
With sharp suspicion.
I could, but don't try to change the subject and fill me with blarney.
All right. I'll tell the truth then. They were getting the best of you till I ran out and knocked one of them tail over tin cup against the pigpen.
You're a liar! They was begging for mercy before you came.
You thief, you! You stole my fine satchel for that lump! And I'll bet that's not all. I'll bet, like when Thomas and John sneaked off, you-
He rises from the boulder threateningly.
Listen, Josie, if you found where I hid my little green bag, and stole my money to give to that lousy altar boy, I'll-
Rises from the steps with the broom handle in her right hand.
Well, I did. So now what'll you do? Don't be threatening me. You know I'll beat better sense in your skull if you lay a finger on me.
I never yet laid hands on a woman-not when I was sober-but if it wasn't for that club-
A fine curse God put on me when he gave me a daughter as big and strong as a bull, and as vicious and disrespectful.
Suddenly his eyes twinkle and he grins admiringly.
Be God, look at you standing there with the club! If you ain't the damnedest daughter in Connecticut, who is?
He chuckles and sits on the boulder again.
Laughs and sits on the steps, putting the club away.
And if you ain't the damnedest father in Connecticut, who is?
Excerpted from A Moon for the Misbegotten by Eugene O'Neill Copyright © 1952 by Eugene O'Neill. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted November 12, 2002
Posted January 3, 2009
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