“The Old Man and the Old Moon” – The Essence of Hope Emblazoned in Power of Theatre

By Ernest Kearney  —  The Old Man and the Old Moon is an assemblage of all the elements that made theatre the earliest and most essential of humanity’s creative expressions:

The making of myth and spinning of stories to explain the inexplicable, and tame the terrors of the unknown, the marshalling of music and song, puppetry and laughter to forge the shield of community, that indispensable armor which secured our survival; all entwined with the essence of wonder and imagination which has encouraged and ensured our evolution since the dawn of our kind.

The PigPen Theatre Co. is an ensemble of seven either musical performers or actor musicians — they really blur that line — who came together while freshmen at the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama in 2007.  As a theatre company they have had critical kudos heaped on them and gathered up awards from New York to Boston, while as a band their 2012 debut album Bremen was ranked as one of the year’s top ten by The Huffington Post.  (Told you they blurred that line!)

Their production which currently graces the stage at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, describes itself as “a new musical folktale”; and that it certainly is, presenting a sly and engaging tale evoking aspects of Celtic folklore and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen that would fit in perfectly as the 1002nd Arabian Night.

The tale which hinges on a theme recognizable to all in its simple reality is garnished with the fancifulness of a fable and permeated by a parable’s truth: We never realize what we have until it is lost.

The show opens with a rousing musical preamble by the performers before the show’s fabulist (Matt Nuernberger) steps forth and asks, “Have you seen the moon tonight?” and commences to spin his tale —

A long time ago, an Old Man (Ryan Melia) lived in a cottage with an Old Woman (Alex Falberg) his wife.   This was back when the old moon was seated full in the night sky in all its round bright glory never waning, never fading.  But there was a flaw in the moons fashioning that allowed the liquid light that accounted for its illumination, to leak out from it.  So, to see that it was kept full and round each and every night, it fell to the Old Man to collect the liquid light in a bucket, climb a very tall ladder and replenish the old moon’s brightness.

The Old Man is stanch in the execution of his task, never neglecting his duty in maintaining the order of things, and heedless of the negligence felt by his wife who longs for something more than endless repetitions of the same day, like a life imprisoned in the reflections of fun house mirrors.

So when the Old Man returns from his lunar labors he finds she has gone, taken a small boat and sailed…West.

Such is the stuff of epics and legends.

Orpheus and Eurydice, Izanagi and Izanami of Japan, Johnny Cash and June Carter of Nashville.

In pursuit of his wife, the Old Man commandeers a ship by hoodwinking its crew into believing he’s a legendary sailor, braves navel battles and sea monsters, travels to the end of the world, is swallowed by a monstrous fish, rescued by a pair of aeronauts in their aerostat balloon, all the while watching helplessly as the seepage of light from the untended Old Moon dims from sight and plunges the world into a dark chaos.

(l-r) Matt Nuernberger, Ryan Melia, Curtis Gillen — Courtesy of The PigPen Theatre Co., & The Wallis

 

The Old Man endures these and other exploits with able assistance from Falberg, Nuernberger, Ben Ferguson, Curtis Gillen, Arya Shahi and Dan Weschler who fall from role to role in the narrative with the precision of a domino topple arranged by Liu Yang. writer's hand

The ensemble punctuates the perils and pitfalls with musical interludes, employs story-theatre techniques, an array of puppets supplied by Lydia Fine (who also serves as the set and costume designer) and carries the audience along on their gossamer wings of imagination.

I’ll not spoil the tale by revealing the ending, but I will call attention to a fact we all know: The Old Moon, full and brilliant in every night’s sky is lost to us.  Now she hides herself in shadows, showing herself as waxing and waning quarters and crescents, as halves, gibbous, new and full.

As co-directed by Stuart Carden in partnership with the ensemble, the show is a testament to the power and magic that is achievable when the creativity of talented performers invites and unites the audience into the reality of an imagined realm.

Aiding a talented cast and director by their own talents are Bart Cortright and Mikhail Fiskel, whose light and sound designs are as no less crucial than the actors on stage regarding the success of this production.

In selecting to bring The Pigpen Theatre Co. and The Old Man and the Old Moon to The Wallis, its artistic director, Paul Crewes, once again earns the respect and appreciation of L. A. and its audiences.

Some might dismiss the production as more attuned to children, and while there may be some validity to this assessment, I find that hardly a shortcoming.   Of course, I always shared the opinion of Maxim Gorky, “You must write for children in the same way as you do for adults, only better.”

The only flaws I found in the production are the brevity of its run (it closes on March 17th) and the lack of children in the audience, for this is the caliber of theatre that could make lifelong converts of young minds experiencing it just as surely as it enabled “older ones” to recall the rapture of make-believe.

So, what do you have awaiting you with this show?

An entertaining evening of intelligent, exquisite and magical theatre; and a moral to carry with you long after the curtain has fallen: While order offers the calm of habit, the hope of life resides in chaos.

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(Featured Image: Ryan Melia in Old Man and The Old Moon – Courtesy of PigPen Theatre Co. / The Wallis)

writer's hand(Author’s NOTE: Google Liu Yang dominoes).

♦     ♦     ♦

Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts

Presents

PigPen Theatre Co.’s Production

of

The Old Man and The Old Moon

A New Musical Folktale

One-Of-A-Kind Theatrical Experience

Featuring Spirited Indie-Folk Score

Written and Performed by PigPen Theatre Co.

Directed by Stuart Carden and PigPen Theatre Co.

When:

Saturday, March 2 to Sunday, March 17, 2019

Weekdays, 7:30 pm; Saturdays, 2 pm and 7:30 pm; Sundays, 2 pm and 7 pm

No performance on Tuesday, March 12

Run Time:

90 minutes with no intermission

Where:

Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts

Bram Goldsmith Theater

9390 N. Santa Monica Boulevard

Beverly Hills, CA 90210

For Tickets and Information:

TheWallis.org/OldMan

310.746.4000

Box Office – Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Ticket Services

9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA, 9021

 ♦     ♦     ♦


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Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. After a wild and misspent youth, which lasted well into middle age, Kearney has settled down and is focusing on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. Ernest’s stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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