Friday, March 8, 2019

Review: The Epic Adventure of THE OLD MAN AND THE OLD MOON

Matt Nuernberger, Ryan Melia, and Curtis Gillen. All photos by Kevin Parry

Remember the joy of being a kid and spending hours upon hours acting out stories using whatever you could find? When two sticks stood in for a swordfight to save the day or a towel became the mantle of a king? That’s what it feels like watching PigPen Theatre Co. in The Old Man and the Old Moon at The Wallis.

The seven energetic lads who make up the troupe may have grown up a bit since the days of short pants and catching tadpoles but the enchanting alchemy of their performance has as much wit and whimsy as youd find in any backyard adventure. For, in their hands, a sheet becomes a sailing ship, a tube attached to a cooking pot turns into a quacking duck, and a story unfolds that will touch the heart as much as stir the imagination.

There once was an Old Man (Ryan Melia) whose job it was to fill the moon each night but, after years of faithfully completing his task, the routine had taken its toll. He had forgotten all about the promise he made to his wife when they first got married, that they would live a life filled with wondrous travels. One night, he came home to find the Old Woman (Alex Falberg) humming a strange but familiar melody he couldnt quite place. She asked him to go into town with her and dance, but the tired old man refused. In the morning, he awoke to find that she had taken their boat and was gone.

L-R: Ryan Melia, Curtis Gillen, Ben Ferguson, Matt Nuernberger, Dan Weschler,
Arya Shahi, and Alex Falberg

So begins his epic journey across the sea to find her and, in the process, reclaim what he himself had lost. It means leaving behind his responsibility to the moon (which will cause its own complications later) but love is a powerful motivator, even when it has long been neglected. In addition to Melia and Falberg, the versatile company includes Matt Nuernberger, Dan Weschler, Ben Ferguson, Curtis Gillen, and Arya Shahi. Collectively, they create breathtaking sounds and poignant visuals that whisk you away to a land suspended in time. Part theatre, part concert, its a delight from beginning to end.

What is most striking about the production is how in sync with each other these likable artists are. It isnt surprising since they all met while attending Carnegie Mellon School of Drama and over the last decade have forged a creative alliance that makes use of all their many talents. One of their former professors (Stuart Carden) even co-directed the piece. To watch how seamlessly they pass the ball on stage is dizzying, given the various elements they incorporate into the show and how quickly it all moves along.

Shadow puppets add depth to a scene as easily as a lighting change transports the action into the belly of a giant fish or the sound of an accordion conjures up sailors at sea. And the storytelling always feels intimate even within the grander scale of the whole. It may dissolve into mayhem at times but you still come away satisfied and feeling like you know each of them by how they create their characters and make their music.

Curtis Gillen, Dan Weschler, Matt Nuernberger, Alex Falberg, Arya Shahi,
Ben Ferguson, and Ryan Melia

Yes, in addition to being known as a theatre troupe theyve also made a name for themselves as an alternative folk rock band. They released their first album Bremen in 2012 and the score to The Old Man and the Old Moon is quintessential PigPen, riding on wisps of gorgeous harmonies and haunting solo vocals along the lines of The Lumineers or Mumford & Sons. The sound is sophisticated but never ostentatious and does as much to tell the story as any other aspect of the show.

Bottom line: its playtime for the kid in us all. I couldnt stop smiling.

March 2 - 17, 2019
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Tickets and info:
Recommended for all ages
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission

The Old Man and the Old Moon

L-R: Ryan Melia, Dan Weschler, Curtis Gillen, Matt Nuernberger, and Alex Falberg

The cast of The Old Man and the Old Moon

Matt Nuernberger and Ryan Melia

Alex Falberg

Ryan Melia

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