A Story Worth Telling: “The Old Man and the Old Moon”

Presented by ArtsEmerson
Created by PigPen Theatre Co.

November 19 – 23, 2014
Emerson/Paramount Center Mainstage
Boston, MA
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Review by Nick Bennett-Zendzian

(Boston) Theatre is storytelling. Hopefully that’s not a revelation to anyone reading this, but given that theatre covers such a broad spectrum, I find it helpful to remember that no matter what art forms get incorporated into a production, the story is what lies at the heart of every play, musical, opera or what have you. And the young men who make up the ensemble of the NYC-based fringe group PigPen Theatre Company have proven themselves to be masterful storytellers with their contemporary folktale-style production of “The Old Man and the Old Moon,” running until this Sunday at the Paramount Theatre in Downtown Boston.

Through a well-balanced combination of performance, music, and shadow puppetry, the group tells the story of an Old Man (Ryan Melia), whose only job is to fill the Old Moon with light, every night, to keep the moon full. One night his wife, Old Woman (Alex Falberg) starts humming a tune that she heard earlier in the day that she can’t get out of her head and just has to know where it comes from. When the Old Man refuses to go on an adventure with her, she sets out on her own to discover the source of this catchy little tune. This spurs the Old Man into action, and he immediately heads after her. He meets a cast of zany characters along the way, but by leaving home there’s nobody filling up the moon every night, and the Old Moon starts to lose its light, which creates chaos in the world around him.

The technical elements of this show combined brilliantly to support the actors in telling this story. They multi-level set design was largely suggestive, but time and place were always well established through the additional use of shadow-puppetry, appropriate light shifts, and even the actors using their own bodies, the highlight of which was when they came together at one point to form the exterior of the ship they were sailing. Scene transitions were made with lightning-fast accuracy and no blackouts, matching the outstanding pace of the dialogue. Very little pre-recorded sound design was used, with the company instead choosing to create their own sounds through props, instruments, and their own voices. The costumes could best be described as “earthy” and “old-timey,” a perfect match for the atmosphere they were trying to create.

The show is an ensemble piece, and all the actors (with the exception of Melia who plays one role) do an excellent job of making each character distinct. While everyone in the company was remarkable, two who particularly stood out to me were Dan Weschler, whose story about the puppy tugged at everyone’s heartstrings, and Arya Shahi, who made each character he played, no matter how brief their stage time was, unique and totally memorable.

Despite the expert staging and performances, the script itself does have some problems. This is clearly a man’s story, told by men, with the one female role being played by a man, and that role only appears at the beginning and the end. In addition, the company has decided to play up the comedy as much as possible, which might cause some to think that the show lacks emotional depth. Those willing to look past these problems, however, will find themselves experiencing an original gem of a production that moves and inspires.

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