Ramona Alexander plays O’Neill’s Josie Hogan (and it’s not color-blind casting)
From the beginning of her professional acting career, Ramona Lisa Alexander has landed a variety of roles.
Even so, Alexander cast as Josie Hogan, the central character in Eugene O’Neill’s most Irish of plays A Moon For The Misbegotten, is a stretch that will raise some eyebrows.
The Nora Company’s revival of O’Neill’s enduring masterwork directed by Richard McElvain is being performed through November 7, 2010 at the Central Square Theatre.
Alexander started out as the rebellious child Topsy, a revolutionary figure in Coyote Theatre’s 1996 staging of deconstructionists Floraine Kay and Randolph Curtis Rand’s radical take on Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Last year she played the more quietly subversive grandmother, also a figure from slavery times, who hides her granddaughter from the venal advances of a local doctor in Lydia R. Diamond’s Harriet Jacobs, an Underground Theatre production at the Central Square Theater.
In-between, there’s been everything imaginable from the black realm. From the house keeper and mother figure Calpurnia in To Kill A Mockingbird (at the Montana Repertory Company) to the independent minded seamstress Esther hoping to make her way in 1905 New York City in Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel (at Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre on Cape Cod).
At the Huntington in Kia Corthron’s Breath, Boom, she played the feral and aggressive girl gang member Jupiter who pushes a rival’s head into a toilet bowl to make a point.
And she was featured as Nia, a feisty, HIV-infected teenager, in In The Continuum. In Akiba Abaka s dynamic production (for Up You Mighty Race Theater Company), Alexander broke the "third wall" by miming vomiting on the lap of a theatergoer seated next to the stage. In the same show, Alexander also played a variety of roles, including a Nia’s mother, a social worker and even a newborn baby.
A new challenge
The very Irish Josie Hogan is a new kind of challenge, however.
Alexander said that she and the director are in agreement that she’s not going to "mask" being a woman of color "or suggest that Josie Hogan’s mother was African American. "My color is there and present as part of who I am."
She stresses, however, "the role is the right fit for me as an actress.
"Casting me isn’t one of those color-blind production efforts either. We are not going to pretend my color is not there but the emphasis is on who Josie is as a person and how tangible and human these qualities are," she said.
Alexander adds that the director McElvain, himself an actor of note who won the 2000 Eliot Norton Award for his solo turn in Conor McPherson’s Saint Nicholas, had specific qualities in mind when he picked her for the role. He told her he was inspired to cast her "because Josie has a big heart.
"He had seen me as the grandmother in the Harriet Jacobs play and said he was struck by my ability to access the character’s heart and tap into a passion that was strong and masculine. Josie goes from being muscular to vulnerable to being open hearted," she said.
The play centers on Jamie Tyrone, a character based on O’Neill’s older brother who also plays a pivotal role in O’Neill’s posthumously produced, autobiographical play Long Days Journey Into Night. In real-life Tyrone had a bit of a stage career following in their father’s footsteps, but was by this time is in the final stages of an alcoholism that had rendered him nearly blind. He was taken in a straight jacket to a New Jersey sanatorium where he died.
A Moon For The Misbegotten rewrites that ignoble ending.
Tyrone will be played by Will McGarrahan (a regular on Boston stages who recently portrayed the vice principal and judge in The Spelling Bee at the Lyric Stage Company).
The drama focuses on an odd couple: a back country woman, the tough talking daughter of an Irish immigrant farmer, and the worldly Tyrone, elegant even in his cups, who find each other in an otherwise uncongenial world. Theirs is a magnificent love story.