Ramona Lisa Alexander (l) as Josie Hogan and Will McGarrahan as Jim Tyrone in Eugene O’Neill’s enduring masterpiece, “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” playing at Central Square Theater from Thursday, Oct. 7 through Sunday, Nov. 7. For ticket information, call 866-811-4111. (Elizabeth Stewart photo)
Boston has been “an anchor” to Ramona Lisa Alexander.
She was not only born and raised here, the 32-year-old Jamaica Plain actress has also developed her skills as a performer in the Hub.
“I did a lot of youth programs at the Wang Theatre (now Citi Center for the Performing Arts) and Boston Children’s Theatre,” she explained in a recent interview with the Banner.
Now the acclaimed actress (an IRNE Award for her work in the Company One production “103 Within the Veil”) is playing the earthy heroine Josie Hogan in the Nora Theatre’s season opener “A Moon for the Misbegotten.”
Human relations can be as tricky as running a farm — at least in Eugene O’Neill’s now classic ode to hope and dreams “A Moon for the Misbegotten.” Set on a simple Connecticut farmhouse in 1923, “Moon” focuses on the rollercoaster-like emotional odyssey of big-hearted farmer’s daughter Josie. Josie is pushed by her father Phil to find out whether broken actor James Tyrone Jr. has sold the farm they rent. Torn between her father’s strategy and her re-awakened love for James, she holds on to her integrity even as economic survival comes up against personal need.
What is never tricky in this stellar Nora Theatre revival is O’Neill’s vivid portrait of conflicted characters caught in a balancing act of hope and despair. Under premiere actor Richard McElvain’s sharp direction, Anthony R. Phelp’s smartly detailed farmhouse set becomes an emotional obstacle course where Josie and James work their way around and over rocks and a large center stage boulder in a battle of wits and emotions.
Alexander has all of Josie’s physicality doing farm chores as well as her soulfulness as a woman of great inner as well as outer strength. Her mixture of spunk and affection in fiery exchangers with Billy Meleady’s rightly stubborn Phil and her combination of sadness and wistfulness with Will McGarrahan’s pathos-rich James make her Josie a must-see for O’Neill buffs and newcomers alike. Luke Murtha is effectively animated as Josie’s younger brother Mike and Wayne Fritsche properly ineffectual as rich neighbor T. Stedman Harder.
Long before her coveted role in the O’Neill play, she admitted, “I was not too coordinated.”
She sensed at age 15 that “I had a musicality in my body.” What brought everything together, though, was studying under Roxbury mentor Yandje Dbinja, who runs “OrigiNations.” She taught Alexander ballet, hip hop and African dance. While Alexander would go on to earn an M.F.A. at Brandeis in theater, this early study proved crucial.
“A lot of my training before going to Brandeis was in these programs,” she observed. She values that early work with Dbinja so much, in fact, that she recommends such training to any budding performers.
“I would definitely encourage younger actors, artists and performers to study with someone they admire,” she advised. “It can only help them in the long run.”
Summer workshops have also helped. In 2006 she studied Caribbean folk dance in an advanced workshop on Jamaica. The next summer she developed ensemble as well as individual skills in a group of 14 actors during an intensive program at the Guthrie Theatre. In what she described as “an incredible experience,” she played a goddess — “a combination of Egyptian goddess and Athena” and an ailing human. The ensemble work, entitled “Postcards from Earth,” possessed “a universal feel.”
Last fall, she joined Montana Repertory Theatre in a national tour of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
No matter where she has trained and toured, Alexander has always returned to Boston. Proud of her local “network of support,” she cited “a great relationship now with actors, artists and people who produce.”
That relationship has continued with her work on “Moon.” She gave high marks to veteran performer Richard McElvain (an IRNE Award and Elliot Norton Award winner for acting). Calling him “an actor’s director,” she noted, “He is able to see it (a production) from both worlds.”
Rehearsals proved vivid for her. “We developed many physical actions for Josie (who runs a farm along with her father Phil). Luke Murtha, who plays Josie’s younger brother Mike, she added, relied on “his athleticism” to add a bit of jumping in his stage movement.
As much as Alexander loves playing Josie, she is equally enthusiastic about her first professional opportunity to serve as fight director and choreographer. A student of seasoned actor Robert Walsh (“Titus Andronicus” and “The Sins of the Mother,” among others) at Brandeis, she realized “how much I love it (fight directing and choreography).” In the process, she earned a certificate which enables her to serve as fight captain and “to make sure everybody is safe (on stage).”
Alexander continues a busy 2010-2011 season later this fall as the title heroine in the Enchanted Circle Theater production of “Sojourner’s Truth” at Hibernian Hall (Nov. 19-21) and the Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts in Holyoke (Dec. 3-6).
Next Spring she joins Underground Railway Theater artistic director Deborah Wise in the URT co-production with Playwrights’ Theatre at Boston University of the Derek Walcott folk parable “Ti-Jean & His Brothers,” a celebration of Haitian art, music and spirit.
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