There’s something about a great piece of theater that thrills and mystifies. We see characters up on a stage and we know they’re characters and that they’re up on a stage, but somehow we enter into a different world with them, one where there is a different kind of time and a different kind of place.
I just saw a wonderful Luna Stage production of Eugene O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten. All three of the main characters were beautifully portrayed in all their heartbreaking confusion. The tag line for the production is “Betrayal. Deception. Lies. A love story.” As the story unfolds, we begin to understand just how accurately these words describe what’s happening on the stage.
Each character deludes the others at some point during the play and yet ultimately, they all arrive at some kind of truth. This led me ponder probably the biggest lie in the play — a lie that the father Phil Hogan tells his daughter Josie in order to trick her into a liaison that he hopes will lead to marriage for her. It’s a twisty kind of untrue tale that he tells — probably one that it’s unlikely would be told in real life. And yet, it works within the play because the lie he tells leads to a greater truth: that two people can love each other and yet be so filled with a sense of unworthiness that they are unable to act upon that love in a way that offers each other any chance of happiness.
Lies that lead to deeper truths: I wonder how often we see these played out in real life and in stories. In either context, they are tricky to handle without sacrificing the truth to the lie. And yet, a play itself is a kind of betrayal of reality, a deception, a lie — it tricks us into believing that what happens on stage is real. And it does this in the service of revealing to us larger truths that we can’t or won’t see in our everyday lives. Truth telling: that’s part of the storyteller’s art. And sometimes, as the great Eugene O’Neill knew so well: we have to lie to tell the truth. Write on.