by Isaac Rathbone · September 27, 2014
During the pre-show of the current production at the New Victory theater, a cast of seven slowly trickles in with their various instruments: banjo, guitars, fiddles, etc. They start plunking away some tunes and smile at the audience. By the time six of them are there, the plunking transforms into full-on playing. The sound becomes fuller and we feel we are at the start of something. Finally, a drum is picked up by the seventh member and he raises his sticks to pound it. Everyone in the theater gets a sensation that magic is about to happen. The drum is struck, a song erupts and, holy smokes, does the magic happen in PigPen Theatre Co’s The Old Man and the Old Moon. It happens in spades. Staged on a world of wooden planks, canvas, hanging eclectic lamps and old clutter, this show is a charming combination of an Irish Folk tale, Decemberist’s Album, a dream after a good bedtime story and an episode of Monty Python.
PigPen Theatre’s collaborative production is an epic tale of remembering why you love someone after so many long years of forgetting. Even though that may sound a bit heavy to be playing at a theater for young audiences, the story is told with enough joy, innocence and tenderness that the tragedy of not remembering and the happiness of reconnecting hits home to everyone. Without spoiling too much, it is about an Old Man who takes it upon himself to refill the leaking moon with liquid light, so as to keep it full at all times. He has been doing this for so long that he and his wife forgot how they got there, why they are there and most importantly, why they are together in the first place. As fantastical as it sounds, it is so easy to relate these sentiments to our own realities of being obsessed with our jobs and everyday tasks that we forget our more important jobs as human beings. His wife leaves him in a small boat, remembering a long lost melody that somehow relates to their past. The Old Man goes after her, taking him on a journey to the ends of the earth and back. As he sails the seas and skies, he meets all sorts of characters and creatures in this fun adventure story.
The cast (Ryan Melia, Alex Falberg, Matt Nuernberger, Dan Weschler, Ben Ferguson, Curtis Gillen, Alya Shahi), who also created the story and script, are energetic, yet subtle and expertly operate as a true ensemble. Never is this more on display than during the many music sequences, which feature songs from the group’s previously released indie-folk albums. It is common to see heads dancing in their seats, as the music plays. And not only are the cast members the musicians (and extremely good ones, at that), but many songs are accompanied by their shadow puppetry. PigPen Theatre does not fall into the trap of using music and puppetry as simple “bells and whistles.” Each of these moments propel the action of the story and infuse emotion into the scenes. They utilize every piece of clutter on the stage to beautifully transport us from a small cottage, to a sailing ship, to a musty port city pub, and even to the moon. Along with it’s simple use of props and set pieces to convey exotic places and scenes, the company also uses microphones and more “higher tech” elements in creative ways to help tell their story.
The show runs approximately 90 minutes, without an intermission. So younger kids may not be able to sit through the entirety of the show. However, there is plenty of visual and musical elements that will keep most kids captivated throughout. Speaking from my own family’s experience, the next morning after seeing The Old Man and the Old Moon, my kids were drawing treasure maps, playing with flashlights in their darkened bedroom and pretending they were going on “a great adventure.” We take them to see lots of theater and this level of imitation does not happen often.
The New Victory website lists this show for everyone ages 7 and up. By the end of The Old Man and the Old Moon, you will feel like you are 7 and under.