Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Existential AGES OF THE MOON at Ensemble

Sam Shepard, the author of AGES OF THE MOON, now on stage at Ensemble Theatre, is noted for writing plays that are frank and often absurd.  His language choice is gritty, the setting is the American west, and his characters usually self-destruct.  He sometimes includes in his stage directions the requirement that part of the set is to be demolished, much like the lives of the people about whom he writes.  The actions of the actors carry out these destructions.  AGES OF THE MOON is no exception.

 Shepard, who received the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his BURIED CHILD, is a “guys writer.”  His characters are like himself and his father, who he called “a dedicated alcoholic.”  In 2009 Shepard was charged with speeding and drunk driving in Normal, Illinois.  He pleaded guilty to both charges and was sentenced to 24-months probation and 100 hours of community service.  This raw escape from life is reflected in many of his characters who don’t seem to understand consequences that come from their self-destructive actions.

The one hour-and-fifteen minute AGES OF THE MOON is set in a wooded area, far from a city.  On stage is a cabin with a front porch and nearby is a rowboat.  It’s August, 2007.  

Byron listens as his pal, Ames, laments about how he destroyed his marriage by cheating on his wife.  The duo slugs down bourbon, argue, feel sorry for themselves, and reminisce. Ames declares that since his wife found a note from a woman who he had a “meaningless” affair with, he has been “banished…exiled.  Never to return no more.”   He called Byron, supposedly Ames’ best friend, for solace.  A friend he hasn’t seen for years.  A friend who doesn’t seem to have much more of a rudder on his life than Ames.

They talk about love, women, sex and their past.  They verbally and physically attacked each other and wait.  Wait, much like Samuel Beckett’s characters in WAITING FOR GODOT for the unknown.  Byron and Ames are waiting for an unusual eclipse, but, for what purpose?  What difference will it make in their lives?

As the play proceeds, we see changes…changes in the men, changes in the lighting that, like the men, fade into nothingness.   And, as existentialist writers often ask, the audience is led to ask, “What is the meaning of existence?”

Ensemble’s production, under the direction of Stephen-Vasse-Hansell, is well paced and effectively acted.  Both Allan Byrne, as the depressed Ames, and Allen Branstein, as the equally brain-frozen Bryon, create characters that are caught in life’s trap of frustration.  Neither seems to have a purpose in being.  They exist, but why?  For what purpose? 

The pair successfully draws us into their world which is about to experience an eclipse, something that is destined to happen without much purpose, no matter what, like the pattern of these men’s lives. 

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: AGES OF THE MOON is a typical Sam Shepard play.  The characters are well-etched, hard to love or even like, and leave us with a lesson of abject frustration as to why some people lead lives of little meaning or purpose.  It’s a script for those who like raw, well performed theater.

AGES OF THE MOON runs Thursdays through Sundays through  December 6, 2015 at Ensemble Theatre, housed in the former  Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to http://www.ensemble-theatre.org

To see the views of other Cleveland area theatre reviewers go to:  clevelandtheaterreviews.com