ART's 'Moon' shines; Pops pop; the Christmas Revels revel

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''A Moon for the Misbegotten,'' at the American Repertory Theatre, is about being saved. The Eugene O'Neill drama seeks to purge the playwright of memories of his alcoholic brother. It's about saving a farm from being sold and being saved from unforgiving memories, from illusions and deceit.

It's a wonderful production.

O'Neill gives us a scrabbly farm, run by a father and daughter (the youngest son has just fled for the city, as have his brothers before him). These two hurl creatively Irish insults at each other. While the threats fly thick and fast, you soon see that the father (played with a delightful, sputtering lisp and impish good humor by Jerome Kilty) and daughter, Josie, would have it no other way. Josie, secretly loves a man impossibly out of her reach, their landlord, who's also a moderately successful and dissolute Broadway actor. He's a sad man with an imbedded secret, and when Josie suggests a romantic night in the moonlight, you know some profound changes will occur.

Recommended: How well do you know global Christmas traditions? Take our quiz!

Kate Nelligan is superb as the alternately defiant and tender Josie. She's too thin and pretty to ever match the description she throws around of herself as an ''ugly, overgrown lump of a woman,'' but it's plain that she believes it - and that ultimately convinces us.

Ian Bannen plays raspy-voiced actor and landlord James Tyrone. He's as self-pitying and maudlin a drunk as they come. The play rarely allows his real self to peek through the gauze of drink and self-revulsion. But when it does, it's plain to see why she loves him - his goodness is palpable.

Their moonlight meeting is a wary waltz. She wants romance (for several conflicting reasons), he seeks absolution. She discovers what he wants and, in a stunning transformation, lets go of her longing to be loved by him and becomes that which he needs most - someone to whom he can confess his terrible secret and be forgiven. Her love grows larger for being rejected.

David Leveaux's directorial hand is unintrusive. He keeps you always a bit off guard; the embraces are awkward, hands are extended and snapped back. When Josie and James have something crucial to say, they don't run to each other to say it; they hurl it, full-voiced, across the stage because their pain won't let them move an inch closer.

As the sun rises, we find a sober and cleansed James Tyrone. Josie, too, has shed a secret in the night and seems lighter for it. He has poked holes in the shield of toughness she has always protected herself with and shown her that she's delicate and innocent. They have come to themselves and, in them, a type of salvation has occured.

The play runs in repertory with ''Measure for Measure'' through Jan. 29. The Pops in winter

Transplant the Boston Pops from summertime to the holiday season, and you have ''A Pops Christmas Party,'' tickets to which are scarcer than Cabbage Patch dolls.

For five gala evenings over the last two weeks, Symphony Hall was regaled with green wreaths, red ribbons, and jubilation. Hanging strands of tiny oval mirrors glittered out across the tables of Havarti cheese, crackers, and bubbly (the cork-popping percussion accompanied even the serious music).

In true Pops tradition, the heavier material came in the first half - this year, Rimsky-Korsakov, Bizet, Pinkham, Bach-Cailliet. All were directed by John Williams and backed superbly by the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. Except for the wonderful ''mini-masterpieces'' of Alfred Burt (carols concerned with Christmas's sacred side), most of the second half was familiar standards from ''We Wish You a Merry Christmas'' to ''Jingle Bells.''

Like the summer Pops, there was something for everyone: The bass players used umbrellas for protection from the fake, falling snow; Santa Claus arrived with gifts and jokes; the voice of the Pops, William Pierce, read ''A Visit From St. Nicholas'' ('' 'Twas the Night Before Christmas''); and there was one segment for sing-along.

If it had to be summed up in one word, that word would be balance. There was an even sprinkling of serious, fun, and religious music, which kept the evenings from spilling over into the holiday schmaltz these types of affairs are sometimes prone toward. Sing along with the Christmas Revels

I have a hard time with shows that get the audience involved. (Please! Join us!) They make me feel like a real Scrooge. Therefore, I was pretty wary when the Christmas Revels at Sanders Theater opened with a sing-along ''Deck the Halls.''

The Christmas Revels is an annual event, ow in its 13th year, that celebrates the winter solstice through the traditions and rituals of different countries. This year the focus was on Russian and Eastern European peoples.

Dressed in vivid ethnic costumes, the large cast (including children) tried, through music, dance, and drama, to break down the walls separating Western culture from Eastern.

The Sanders Hall stage was decorated with trees from Vermont and peopled with brass players and musicians with exotic instruments. (You had to keep your babushka on, since suitably frigid temperatures were also provided.)

In their intent to educate as well as entertain, some of the dramatic skits were poorly acted and overly earnest. The rest of the cast would often surround a performing group, talking among themselves, smiling and embracing, and generally distracting from the activity - all in the name of showing a sense of community.

So it's not Broadway, but it's not meant to be. It is a warm, good-natured, and energetic troupe of well-rehearsed volunteers, many of whom sing like angels. Some of the women's a cappella songs, sung by a group called Libana, were a rich tapestry, weaving in yips and dissonance. One song, ''Kol Slaven,'' sung by the entire cast and later the audience, was a lovely, bright ribbon of sound. It was about this point that I gave up being a Scrooge and happily joined in. The Christmas Revels runs through tomorrow evening.

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