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James Tyrone, Jr.

Eugene O’Neill’s description of the character of James Tyrone Jr.

Tyrone is in his early forties, around five feet nine, broad-shouldered and deep-chested. His naturally fine physique has become soft and soggy from dissipation, but his face is still good-looking despite its unhealthy puffiness and the bags under the eyes. He has thinning dark hair, parted and brushed back to cover a bald spot. His eyes are brown, the whites congested and yellowish. His nose, big and aquiline, gives his face a certain Mephistophelian quality which is accentuated by his habitually cynical expression. But when he smiles without sneering, he still has the ghost of a former youthful, irresponsible Irish charm–that of the beguiling ne’er-do-well, sentimental and romantic. It is his humor and charm which have kept him attractive to women, and popular with men as a drinking companion. He is dressed in an expensive dark-brown suit, tight-fitting and drawn in at the waist, dark-brown made-to-order shoes and silk socks, a white silk shirt, silk handkerchief in breast pocket, a dark tie. This get-up suggests that he follows a style set by well-groomed Broadway gamblers who would like to be mistaken for Wall Street brokers.


Written by Eugene O’Neill

Directed by Daniel Sullivan

Walter Kerr Theatre, New York City;  Mar 19, 2000 – Jul 2, 2000; 120 performances


2000 Theatre World Award:  Gabriel Byrne, winner

2000 Tony Award-Best Actor in Play: Gabriel Byrne, nominee

2000 Drama Desk Award-Outstanding Actor in a Play: Gabriel Byrne,  nominee


Set in a dilapidated Connecticut farm house in 1923, A Moon for the Misbegotten focuses on three remarkable characters: Josie, a towering Irish woman with a quick tongue and a ruined reputation; her conniving father, Phil Hogan; and James Tyrone, Jr., Hogan’s landlord and drinking companion, a cynical alcoholic haunted by the death of his mother.

As an off-handed joke during one of their drunken bouts, Tyrone threatens to sell his land and evict Hogan. To secure his farm, Hogan schemes to take advantage of the mutual affection between his daughter and Tyrone. In the play’s poignant conclusion, these two “misbegotten” lovers come together to realize the truth about themselves and the tragedy of their future.–Cinemind

A Moon for the Misbegotten is a play by Eugene O’Neill. The play can be thought of as a sequel to the autobiographical Long Day’s Journey into Night. Jim Tyrone is an older version of Jamie Tyrone from the first play, and they are both based on Eugene O’Neill’s older brother, Jamie O’Neill.

Set in a dilapidated Connecticut house in early September 1923, the play focuses on three characters: Josie, a domineering Irish woman with a quick tongue and a ruined reputation, her conniving father, tenant farmer Phil Hogan, and James Tyrone, Jr., Hogan’s landlord and drinking companion, a cynical alcoholic haunted by the death of his mother.

The play begins with Mike, the last of Hogan’s three sons, leaving the farm. As a joke during one of their drunken bouts, Tyrone threatens to sell his land and evict Hogan, which propels the latter to set into motion a scheme that will take advantage of the mutual affection between his daughter and Tyrone. The play ends with Jim Tyrone leaving the farm, apparently to die soon of complications from alcoholism. –Wikipedia

video: scenes from the play

promotional stills

More promotional images are in the Gallery.


Tyrone: (suddenly, begins to talk mechanically) Had to get out of the damned Inn. I was going batty alone there. The old heebie-jeebies. So I came to you. (He pauses–then adds with strange, wondering sincerity) I’ve really begun to love you a lot, Josie.
Josie: (blurts out bitterly) Yes, you’ve proved that tonight, haven’t you? (hurriedly regaining her playful tone) But never mind. I said I’d forgive you for being so late. So go on about love. I’m all ears.
Tyrone: (as if he hadn’t listened) I thought you’d have given me up and gone to bed. I remember I had some nutty idea I’d get in bed with you–just to lie with my head on your breast.

Tyrone: Ah! At last the old booze! (He relieves her of the pitcher and tumblers as she comes down the steps.)
Josie: (with a fixed smile) You’d think I’d been gone years. You didn’t seem so perishing for a drink.
Tyrone: (in his usual, easy, kidding way) It’s you I was perishing for. I’ve been dying of loneliness–
Josie: You’ll die of lying some day. But I’m glad you’re alive again. I thought when I left you really were dying on me.
Tyrone: No such luck.

Tyrone: (irritably) Nix on the raw stuff, Josie. Remember you said–
Josie: (resentment in her kidding) I’d be different? That’s right. I’m forgetting it’s your pleasure to have me pretend I’m an innocent virgin tonight.
Tyrone: (in a strange tone that is almost threatening) If you don’t look out, I’ll call you on that bluff, Josie. (He stares at her with a deliberate sensualist’s look that undresses her.) I’d like to. You know that, don’t you?
Josie: (boldly) I don’t at all. You’re the one who’s bluffing.
Tyrone: (grabs her in his arms–with genuine passion) Josie! (Then as suddenly he lets her go.) Nix. Let’s cut it out. (He turns away. Her face betrays the confused conflict within her of fright, passion, happiness, and bitter resentment. He goes on with an abrupt change of tone.) How about another drink? That’s honest-to-God old bonded Bourbon. How the devil did Phil get hold of it?

 Tyrone: We’ve agreed there is only tonight–and it’s to be different from any past night–for both of us.
Josie: (in a forced, kidding tone) I hope it will be. I’ll try to control my envy for your Broadway flames. I suppose it’s because I have a picture of them in my mind as small and dainty and pretty–
Tyrone: They’re just gold-digging tramps.
Josie: (as if he hadn’t spoken) While I’m only a big, rough, ugly cow of a woman.
Tyrone: Shut up! You’re beautiful.
Josie: (jeeringly, but her voice trembles) God pity the blind!
Tyrone: You’re beautiful to me.
Josie: It must be the Bourbon–
Tyrone: You’re real and healthy and clean and fine and warm and strong and kind–
Josie: I have a beautiful soul, you mean?
Tyrone: Well, I don’t know much about ladies’ souls–(He takes her hand.) But I do know you’re beautiful. (He kisses her hand.) And I love you a lot–in my fashion.

Josie: (uneasily) What are you talking about? What train?
Tyrone: No train. Don’t mind me. (He gulps down the drink and pours another with the same strange air of acting unconsciously.) Maybe I’ll tell you–later, when I’m–That’ll cure you–for all time! (Abruptly he realizes what he is saying. He gives the characteristic shrug of shoulders–cynically) Nuts! The Brooklyn boys are talking again. I guess I’m more stewed than I thought–in the center of the old bean, at least. (dully) I better beat it back to the Inn and go to bed and stop bothering you, Josie.
Josie: (bullyingly–and pityingly) Well, you won’t, not if I have to hold you. Come on now, bring your drink and sit down like you were before. (He does so. She pats his cheek–forcing a playful air) That’s a good boy. And I won’t take any more whiskey. I’ve all the effect from it I want already. Everything is far away and doesn’t matter–except the moon and its dreams, and I’m part of the dreams–and you are, too. (She adds with a rueful little laugh) I keep forgetting the thing I’ve got to remember. I keep hoping it’s a lie, even though I know I’m a damned fool.

Tyrone: (turning back–bitter accusation in his tone now) Whore? Who said you were a whore? But I warned you, didn’t I, if you kept on–Why did you have to act like one, asking me to come to bed? That wasn’t what I came here for. And you promised tonight would be different. Why the hell did you promise that, if all you wanted was what all the others want, if that’s all love means to you? (then guiltily) Oh, Christ, I don’t mean that, Josie. I know how you feel, and if I could give you happiness–But it wouldn’t work. You don’t know me. I’d poison it for myself and for you. I’ve poisoned it already, haven’t I, but it would be a million times worse after–No matter how I tried not to, I’d make it like all the other nights–for you, too. You’d lie awake and watch the dawn come with disgust, with nausea retching your memory, and the wine of passion poets blab about, a sour aftertaste in your mouth of Dago red ink! (He gives a sneering laugh.)
Josie: (distractedly) Oh, Jim, don’t! Please don’t!
Tyrone: You’d hate me and yourself–not for a day or two but for the rest of your life. (with a perverse, jeering note of vindictive boastfulness in his tone) Believe me, Kid, when I poison them, they stay poisoned!

Josie: (with dull bitterness) Good-bye, Jim.
Tyrone: (miserably hurt and sad for a second–appealingly) Josie–(gives the characteristic shrug of his shoulders–simply) Good-bye. (He turns toward the road–bitterly) I’ll find it hard to forgive, too. I came here asking for love–just for this one night, because I thought you loved me. (dully) Nuts. To hell with it. (He starts away.)
Josie: (watches him for a second, fighting the love that, in spite of her, responds to his appeal–then she springs up and runs to him–with fierce, possessive, maternal tenderness) Come here to me, you great fool, and stop your silly blather. There’s nothing to hate you for. There’s nothing to forgive. Sure, I was only trying to give you happiness, because I love you. I’m sorry I was so stupid and didn’t see–But I see now, and you’ll find I have all the love you need. (She gives him a hug and kisses him. There is passion in her kiss but it is a tender, protective maternal passion, which he responds to with an instant grateful yielding.)
Tyrone: (simply) Thanks, Josie. You’re beautiful. I love you. I knew you’d understand.

Tyrone: No. I won’t be able to do it, Josie. That’s the joke. I gave it a try-out before I came up here. I borrowed some money on my share of the estate, and started going to tracks. But it didn’t work. I played my system, but I found I didn’t care if I won or lost. The horses were beautiful, but I found myself saying to myself, what of it? Their beauty didn’t mean anything. I found that every day I was glad when the last race was over, and I could go back to the hotel–and the bottle in my room. (He pauses, staring into the moonlight with vacant eyes.)
Josie: (uneasily) Why did you tell me this?
Tyrone: (in the same listless monotone) You said I looked dead. Well, I am.
Josie: You’re not! (She hugs him protectively.) Don’t talk like that!
Tyrone: Ever since Mama died.

Tyrone: (unheeding) She’d understand and forgive me, don’t you think? She always did. She was simple and kind and pure of heart. She was beautiful. You’re like her deep in your heart. That’s why I told you. I thought–(Abruptly his expression becomes sneering and cynical–harshly) My mistake. Nuts! Forget it. Time I got a move on. I don’t like your damned moon, Josie. It’s an ad for the past. (He recites mockingly)

“It is the very error of the moon:
She comes more nearer earth than she was wont,
And makes men mad.”

Josie: No. You’re right, there. There’s nothing. Nothing at all. (She smiles strangely.) Except a great miracle they’d never believe, or you either.
Hogan: What miracle?
Josie: A virgin who bears a dead child in the night, and the dawn finds her still a virgin. If that isn’t a miracle, what is?


More screencaps from the play and the Gabriel Byrne/Charlie Rose interview are in the Gallery.


New York Times/Ben Brantley

Mr. Byrne’s James has the wry papery voice and stylized mannerisms of the wastrel actor who has spent too many nights on Broadway and the Bowery of the early 1920’s. Then there are those truly shocking moments when his face goes as blank as a cadaver’s, and you realize that those fancy finger waves with which he punctuates the lighting of a cigarette are used to camouflage delirium tremens…

And notice how James registers the abrupt arrival of poisonous memories with the startled pain of someone stabbed from behind. Each is finally brought to a painfully wrought climax of self-revelation. Ms. Jones delivers hers with a sad yet enchanting air of violated modesty, and then generously turns the stage over to Mr. Byrne for the astonishing confession of shame he offers up while cradled in Ms. Jones’s arms.

Criticism of previous productions of ”Moon” has often centered on Josie’s dominance in a play that was written by O’Neill as a benediction for the dead brother on whom James is based. This is definitely not a problem here. Mr. Byrne’s long third-act monologue, its shifts in mood exquisitely set off by Pat Collins’s lighting, is a harrowing act of self-administered surgery, etched in escalating degrees of pain. It is, in a word, brilliant, itself the stuff of theatrical legend.

Theatermania/David Finkle [This article is no longer available on the Internet]

That may have something to do with the overshadowing brilliance of Gabriel Byrne’s Jamie. In a season of notable male characterizations, his may be the truly outstanding one. Playing an often-transgressing man bent on destroying himself as punishment for entertaining a hooker during a cross-country train ride with his mother’s corpse, he seems to have stared into the abyss and found the abyss staring back. Wearing a practiced jauntiness as rumpled as his three-piece brown suit, Byrne’s Jamie emits laughs that contain their own dark echoes. Jamie says he’s seen his own ghost, and Byrne makes sure the audience also sees the specter of such–particularly in the bent-shouldered walk he takes when, just before curtain, he leaves the action and heads toward his dire future.

Curtain Up/Elyse Sommer

Fortunately, with Gabriel Byrne as Jamie Tyrone this Moon shines very brightly indeed. Like Jason Robards, the Irish actor who’s best known to Americans for his film work, is magnetic but not handsome. His Jamie is pale and wasted by years of self-destructive womanizing and drinking. Even his voice seems worn thin. Yet he has enough charm to give credibility to the love Josie has harbored for him since she was twelve. The monologue in which he, his natty brown 20s suit rumpled and worn, pours out his grief and guilt about his misconduct on the train carrying his mother’s body to its final resting place is an incredible feat of pained self-revelation. Its length and impact are reminiscent of Hickey’s in The Iceman Cometh. The pull between these two lost souls, his recognition of her sensitivity and hers of his, is what acting that doesn’t look and feel like acting is all about.

The New York Observer/John Heilpern

The new production of Eugene O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten at the Walter Kerr Theater is a wonderful achievement on every level, and I trust that in years to come those of us who saw it will proudly say, “We were there.” It is, quite simply, one of those nights at the theater that we live for.

I know of no finer performances anywhere than the supreme ones of Cherry Jones, Gabriel Byrne and Roy Dotrice. The three of them are magnificent, bringing honor to O’Neill’s last drama that amounts to a Miracle Play in its pain and compassion and absolution. Ms. Jones and Mr. Dotrice deserve every praise, God knows. (And what a joy it is to see the veteran Roy Dotrice on Broadway again). But at the risk of running out of superlatives before we’ve scarcely begun, Gabriel Byrne’s tormented James Tyrone Jr. touches such greatness in the strength of his dark emotional honesty that I cannot imagine a different Tyrone, let alone a better one. Mr. Byrne’s restrained, amazing performance is one for the ages.

Mr. Byrne touches every emotional note without seeming to try. Yet he’s playing a man who is emotionally dead, choking on a guilt that’s killing him. The wounded Tyrone with his trembling hands itchy for another whisky has watched “too many dawns come creeping grayly over dirty windowpanes.” Mr. Byrne knows his Black Irishmen, and he has the look of one, too. Self-pity isn’t his game. He understands those sufferers who have already died of self-disgust, and will die again. Mr. Byrne’s unshowy, lacerating honesty is in perfect tune with Eugene O’Neill’s, and he is giving the performance of a lifetime.

San Francisco Chronicle

Jones gives a carefully crafted and admirable performance as a big-boned country girl in love with an alcoholic Broadway actor. But the great acting in the show — the heart-shattering, spontaneous glory of this “Moon” — comes from the two male leads, Roy Dotrice and especially Gabriel Byrne.

Plunging through the bourbon fumes and flirtatious charms of James Tyrone Jr., Byrne reveals the acrid self-loathing and raw, unreachable pain of the character closely based on the playwright’s doomed older brother. The climax comes in a mighty third-act monologue of guilt and glimmering redemption that could stand alone like a great aria…

Cradled in Josie’s arms, his body pooled there in exhaustion and relief as he confesses his sins to her, Byrne carries the audience along with James to the bottom. It’s an astonishing, soul-scouring feat. When he blinks his eyes open after a dreamless sleep, he seems lighter, almost buoyant. Even his hangover is a blessing — the “heebie-jeebies” are gone. But Byrne makes us see that this new, unburdened James is also mortally fragile. Picking his way offstage at the end, it’s clear, he will never find his way back again.

Byrne’s performance gives this “Moon” its glowing center. Audiences may come to see Jones. They’ll come away with Byrne’s James Tyrone Jr. burned into their memories…

New York Magazine

As James, Gabriel Byrne gives a complementarily moving performance as a lost soul in a dying body, whom we watch superbly enact the painful rites of a redemption as his flesh visibly wastes away. Like Miss Jones’s, Byrne’s acting is replete with illuminating detail, quick in seismic mood shifts, full of contradictory impulses chasing each other like a kitten its tail. And the two actors rise sublimely to that great night scene, a secular Pietà, with the dawn bringing purification but also a parting forever.

video compilation


More posters and the Playbill are in the Gallery.


video: Charlie Rose interviews Gabriel Byrne about the play

The New York Times/Robin Pogrebin
Facing Down Demons Nightly And Coming Out Exhilarated

”In five months I went through terror, doubt, regret, exhilaration,” Mr. Byrne said, ”stretching myself as an actor every night to be able to get that emotional peak that you have to hit.”

Daniel Sullivan, who directed the play, which opened last month at the Walter Kerr Theater, said that he and Mr. Byrne had rehearsed the monologue in cinematic terms. ”He was afraid of it at first, as I think any actor would be — the stillness of it,” Mr. Sullivan said. ”We began to talk about it as a close-up. We would come into it tighter and tighter.”

Ms. Jones says it is a draining speech just to listen to, and that it moves her over and over again as Mr. Byrne delivers it, leaning back between her knees. ”He is meeting this great responsibility every night, and he never ever cheats O’Neill or the audience or me,” she said. ”It’s one of those monologues that takes no prisoners. It leaves no one unshaken.”

”I’m grateful, in a way, that Gabriel does have places to be by midsummer because I don’t want Gabriel to have to do that for the next year,” she added. (The play ends on June 18.) ”It costs, it really does. And I also know the dividends are great as well. There’s kind of an elation for us when the work is good at the end of the night, that we managed to live through it one more time.”

Given the power and intensity of the speech, one wonders how Mr. Byrne plumbs so deep every night — what demons of his own he might be summoning that makes their release seem so real. ”If you live sufficiently long enough, you have enough things in your life that make you, when you think about them, sad,” he said. ”What I think about when I’m doing that monologue is something very personal and private.”

”It’s a tough place to go every night,” he added, ”but I’m now permanently in touch with that place.”

Offstage, the actor exudes the kind of weary wisdom that makes him seem just right for the role of a tortured soul like James Tyrone. Ms. Jones attributes it to Mr. Byrne’s upbringing in Ireland, ”a land,” she said, ”that time forgot.”

”There’s an innocence about Gabriel and a gullibility about Gabriel and a softness about Gabriel, and a gentlemanliness,” she said. ”It’s an Old World quality, something from another era. He’s so full of contradictions because he does have that movie-industry savvy — he’s nobody’s fool. At the same time, there’s something about the man that is so sweetly naive.”

When Mr. Byrne was 5, his mother took him to the Abbey Theater in Dublin to see a play about an Irish rebel who was executed. ”I never forgot it,” Mr. Byrne said. ”The color, the lights, the smell of the seats.” A Moon for the Misbegotten/Paul Lombardi [This article is no longer available on the Internet]

The father of the American drama reveals all the family secrets in “A Moon for the Misbegotten.”

It’s Eugene O’Neill’s last play, a follow-up to his autobiographical masterpiece “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” Gabriel Byrne plays James Tyrone, the doomed alcoholic who stumbles through both plays.

Byrne has described the role as a “man-eater.” He says, “It’s a complex and emotional role. It makes great demands on an actor because you’ve got to go through several emotional transitions.”

Tyrone finds love and acceptance in Josie, the pig-farmer’s gruff but gentle daughter. Josie is played by Cherry Jones.

“All she can do is love him and listen to him and give him the love and forgiveness he needs and send him on the road to death, and knowing that’s what he needs,” says Jones.

Jones saw “A Moon for the Misbegotton” as a teenager, and the experience confirmed her desire to become a serious actress.

“I understood in that moment what was possible in the theater, and I had never known that before,” she says.

Josie’s scheming father, played Roy Dotrice, also hams up the heavy drama.

“O’Neill has a reputation for being rather long-winded and rather depressing,” says Dotrice. “Well, you can’t get rid of the depression, but we try to make it as happy as we can under the circumstances.”

The James Tyrone character is based on Eugene O’Neill’s older brother James, who was also a trouble-making, tortured alcoholic. Through the play, O’Neill grants his brother the peace and forgiveness he never experienced in life.

“I feel responsible toward the text and O’Neill’s intention to exorcise the ghost of his brother,” says Byrne. “And when he wrote the play he was heartbroken and confronting the past.”

But “A Moon for the the Misbegotten” shines hopefully on the future, as Eugene O’Neill finally lays his family’s spirits to rest.

Director Daniel Sullivan’s diary at Slate

Of course, it’s not a new play; it’s O’Neill. Most savvy theatergoers know that they’re in for a longish night, and they’ve just had a remarkable four-and-a-half-hour Iceman last year to whet their appetites. They arrive knowing that they aren’t in for an easy time of it. When the stage manager makes the announcement about not taking photographs, I’m tempted to have him tell them to visit the bathroom or they might experience some discomfort during the 80-minute first act. But even without the warning, they make it through with hardly a whimper. Or most do. There are a few lost souls who can be seen at intermission wandering the theater like benumbed victims of a traffic accident. These are the people who have purchased tickets to see Gabriel Byrne because he was the one who kissed Winona Ryder in Little Women. Not the best audience for O’Neill. Maybe it’ll be good for them, though. To learn at last that one can fall from grace so easily; that it’s a fragile wall, indeed, between Louisa May and syphilitic alcoholism.

blog postings

Carol Marsella’s LiveJournal: Boggles the Mind: Gabriel Byrne: TVs Sweet Treat!

Gabriel Byrne stood out for me because I had never seen him before and, forgive me again, I can be an awful snob when it comes to live theater. He took hold of that character and transported me and, I think, everyone else to the 1940s. It was not just O’Neill’s words that took us away; Byrne’s body language, his very demeanor, was of a time gone by. What a lovely, magical partnership!

Byrne’s obvious love of the material shone through. So many actors simply say lines and move about the stage, gesturing as instructed, and they get rave reviews for doing it. I have been guilty, too, of this kind of acceptance – and as long as I am entertained, this is all right with me… uh, most of the time. It’s a given, our Mr. Byrne could have gotten away with offering much less than he did. Fortunately for his audience, however, it would not have been enough for him! He didn’t perform Tyrone; he channeled him. There was no definitive line between the here and now and the once upon a time. The assemblage around me disappeared, and I was taken into the story, the proverbial fly on the wall of a real happening.

additional resources

The full text of the play at Project Gutenberg

Cinemind: original website for the play–most links are dead, but the text and photos are great

Background of the play at the New York Times [This link is behind a paywall]

Internet Broadway Database

Wikipedia page for A Moon for the Misbegotten

Wallpaper by Stella

Many thanks indeed to the resourceful Aragarna for providing the videos!

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