'The Old Man and The Old Moon': a delightful fairy tale

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As the mother of a candidate for a BFA in theater, I am keenly aware of my burgeoning actor's chances of gainful employment. So it is reassuring to see recent those with their Bachelors of Fine Arts in theater forge a terrific troupe.

It's even better when that group, PigPen Theatre Co., formed at Carnegie Mellon School of Drama, creates as lovely a piece of work as "The Old Man and the Old Moon." It opened officially Sunday (Oct. 7) at The Gym at Judson.

The story, told by the seven actors who also play instruments, instantly feels like the Tony-winning "Once" because as the audience filters in, the actors are on stage playing acoustic guitar, banjo, accordion, fiddle, piano and percussion. Wearing worn pants, which probably should resemble britches, suspenders, an Irish sweater vest all in faded colors, the folksy mood is immediately set.

When it starts, there are delightful similarities to "Peter and the Starcatcher." Both require an ensemble that's tight, use minimalist props and the actors rely on one another. Of course the Tony-winning Broadway show, which began off-Broadway, had some time to hone itself.

This needs a little more work. At over two hours, it is a little long, especially in the second act.
 
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The play is about an old man, whose lifelong job has been to keep the moon filled. The moon has a leak, and he climbs a ladder to the sky, carrying a bucket, and pours water in to fill the moon. He's married to the old woman. An old woman, who though she loves her husband, wants to see more of the world than just their coastal village. He's rather cranky and criticizes her wild and crazy ideas such as taking walks after dinner.

The old woman postponed her adventures long enough and leaves in a sailboat. Distraught without his wife, he takes off in search of her and has many adventures.

He winds up on a boat of rather lackadaisical sailors, whose bravery could be questioned but their commitment to fun is unassailable. Rather than quash the rebels they decide to take a detour to an island.

The story is cleverly advanced using shadow puppets, narration, instruments and a couple of songs. Granted it is a fantastic tale, but it works ever so beautifully because no one dares for hipster irony.

Since the old man left his post as keeper of the moon, the moonlight fades. Eventually, the tides are thrown off, earthquakes and other natural disasters follow, and clouds of biblical proportions loom overhead. Stars fall from the sky. It is apocalyptic, all because an old woman yearned to see beyond her horizon, and the old man could not go on without her. When he followed her, no one remained to tend to the moon.
 
The sailors, lost at sea, are in grave danger. The old man is swallowed by a prisonfish -- not a whale, and not a mere fish, but a prisonfish -- and all looks hopeless. But this is a sweet fairy tale and all will be fine. 

Though my theater mate is 10, and quite mature, she was the youngest person in the audience. It's unlikely that a show this long would hold a very young audience without special effects, but the lack of noise and the shadow puppets are its charm.

The narrator warns the audience that this is a story that does not really have a start or an end, and that is the one false note: it has a beginning, middle and end. It also has a fine troupe of actors with a real future ahead of them. And that, for mothers of BFA candidates, is pretty much the golden ring.
Photo/Video credit: Joan Marcus
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