Review: An Honest and Funny Take on Life, Death, and Change in Man and Moon
I was not expecting to laugh as much as I did while experiencing Man and Moon , produced by Dragonfly Theatre Company in conjunction with 16th Street Theater NFP. The play is a rolling world premiere meaning that the play has also been staged in Eugene, Oregon, and Ogden, Utah—as it made its way across the country. It is also a production of the National New Play Network, which brings fresh new work to the stage. Hayley Procacci directs Siena Marilyn Ledger's play, an intimate story of two people enduring grief, transitions, and the unknown that comes with all of that. But I did laugh at this well-written play that takes place in the waiting room at an oncology unit.
Luna (Clare Wols) is a precocious and fearless 12-year-old who will be 13 on the day that a comet will appear. Wols is delightful as a girl who loves the world of astronomy. I watched in wonder as Wols compared quasars, planets, comets and the properties of each. Wols is 12 years with an excellent embodiment of character and timing. Luna's mother is a PhD in astronomy or astrophysics and is losing her life to breast cancer in a long goodbye of six years. The audience never sees her other than through the eyes and wisdom of her daughter.
Aaron (Peter Danger Wilde) is terrific as a transitioning man who has breast cancer possibly discovered before top surgery. Wilde balances their character's fear with a sense of wonder and acceptance by way of the child of a stranger who is suffering the same disease. The connection between the characters in Man and Moon rises from a longing for assurance and hope when everything is changing and evolving.
Playwright Siena Marilyn Ledger crafts a script that never veers into sentimentality or gender politics. The characters of Aaron and Luna are allowed the gift of just being. In an interview for Third Coast Review, my colleague Kim Campbell spoke with Ledger and director Hayley Procacci about the play's presentation of gender and how it has been received in previous productions in Oregon and Utah. Procacci spoke about Man and Moon doing well in both states and how the transitions of both characters happen in layers. Ledger has the characters discover facets of themselves as they are sharing time and space with each other. They mention the importance of having youth in the play being non-binary or whatever 'other' there is, without judgment.
Wols brings exuberant teenage energy as she bounces about the stage. She and Wilde show their characters on a journey through the cosmos and through life, which is otherworldly when there are life-changing events occurring. I had not contemplated how a black hole is an evolving star gone nova since the days of Carl Sagan. Her delivery piqued my interest again and nudged me further into considering the state of our own planet.
Wilde's portrayal of a trans man is subtle. The role has their character wanting to leave 'Erin" behind but they are still bound by a diagnosis of breast cancer, which can happen to any gender. My favorite parts of this play are when the characters discuss changes that happen to a female body. Luna brought the laughs as she describes the ugh parts of getting a period. Aaron gently suggests tampons, which Luna has in her backpack (which is kind of a character itself). Luna asks Aaron what cup size they are and then returns with a bunch of bras on a hanger.
Man and Moon is well directed and acted. It is a good study on the balance of life on this planet and in the universe. I think that you will enjoy this journey about life, the universe, theory vs. law and how Pluto got booted from planet status. There are good laughs and moments for contemplation on existence.
Dragonfly Theatre Company presents Man and Moon at the Madison Street Theater, 1010 W. Madison St. in Oak Park. The play runs through November 13. All tickets are $25 with $10 virtual tickets available starting October 27. Please note that understudies Emma L. Anderson and Jonah Muscarella play the roles of Luna and Aaron at alternate performances listed on the website https://16thstreettheater.org.