Saturday, December 07, 2019

“THE OLD MAN AND THE OLD MOON,” an adult fantasy at Dobama

Billed as a “play with music, “THE OLD MAN AND THE OLD MOON,” which is now on stage at Dobama, tells the tale of an old man who has kept his post as the sole caretaker of the moon for as long as he or his wife, the Old Woman, can imagine.   

Unfortunately, his wife disappears and the old man must abandon his duties of filling up the moon with liquid light to cross the seas to search for her.  

The journey takes him to the sea, to a war, and like the Biblical Jonah, into the belly of a giant fish.  Ghosts, animals and an assortment of other oddballs accompany him on a trek that is sometimes comical, sometimes melancholy, sometimes tedious.  Eventually, the old man and his wife are reunited and the moon continues to shine.


Don’t confuse this script with “The Man in The Moon,” the Robert Mulligan film, Earnest Hemingway’s tale, “The Old Man and the Sea,” or the R.E.M. music video, “Man on The Moon.”  

This musical was conceived by the PigPen Theatre Co., a group of former Carnegie Mellon School of Drama students, who have been creating their unique brand of theatre, music and film since 2007.


This story can be staged in as many ways as it can be imagined.  The music, the puppets, the sound effects, the very world of the play, can appear and disappear in an instant without hiding anything from the audience. The sound effects - from the filling of the moon to the lapping of the waves on the shore are created live in full-view of the audience.


Dobama’s production takes the advice of the author and creates a world which will enchant many but confound others.  


Though told in linear format, it is telling a fantasy legend, not a reality tale.  This means that not all the actions are logical.  There are spoken lines, sung lyrics, puppets and shadow emblems.  This is not traditional western theatre, but combines formats from Asian and historical tale-telling.  

Appreciation requires the viewer to let the production qualities carry you where the actors and musicians will you to go as they follow the inventions of the directors, in this case, Nathan Motta and Melissa T. Crum.


Don’t assume that, since this is a type of fairy tale, it is appropriate for children.  The material is sophisticated, often abstract and, though generally inventive, probably will not grab and hold a young person’s attention.  


The script was originally meant to be performed in 90-minutes without intermission.  The directors’ decided, probably unwisely, to make this into a two-act with an intermission.  There were times when cutting of movement, music and effects, especially during the shipboard segment, would have helped.  As is, there is a degree of tediousness.


On many levels, the production is creative.  The blending of lighting, sound, and visual elements intrigues.


The cast is outstanding.  They sing, play musical instruments, and create sound and visual effects.  They use cloth to create boats and water.  They use flashlights to spotlight people and actions.  They dance, move and act as people, animals and illusions.  

Gabe Reed, Kieran Minor, Treva Offutt, Tim Keo, Jourdan Lewanda, Emmy Brett, Josh Innerst and Amy Bransky each play multiple roles and musical instruments with proficiency.  (Applause, applause!)  

Capsule judgment:   Dobama’s “OLD MAN AND THE OLD MOON” creates a world which will enchant many and confound others.  In order to truly participate in the experience, you must combine your inner curious child and let loose of your inhibitions and expectations of the format for traditional theater.  It’s worth seeing if just to immerse yourself in experiencing what “non-traditional” theatre can be, realizing that this is not theater for everyone, especially children.

OLD MAN AND THE OLD MOON,” runs through January 5, 2020 at Dobama, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights.  Call 216-932-3396 or for tickets.

Next up at Dobama:  SKELETON CREW, a Dominique Morrisseau play, in its Cleveland premiere from January 24-February 16, 2020.