Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Only the Moon Howls (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Only The Moon Howls by Dean Farell Fuggerman marks the latest production of Theatre Unleashed in North Hollywood.  Directed by Eric Cire, it turns out to be an incredibly precise work, and in rather a lot of ways.

For one thing, here is a play that knows it is a play.  In the modern era--partially fed by t.v. and motion pictures--we tend to expect plays in a "naturalistic' mode.  We the audience fulfill the role of eavesdroppers on what pretends to be real life.  Not so here.  Incidentally, up until the 19th century that was normal for theatre--no concept of the fourth wall, overtly non-realistic style so taken for granted no one ever thought of it in those terms, details even of history reshaped for dramatic purposes.  In fact so called "naturalistic' theatre is the same, just more subtle about it.

Only The Moon Howls focuses upon a married couple, upon their relationship as re-created and commented upon by a chorus of four, who speak not only to the audience but also to the characters.  Indeed, one of the romantic pair Whitney (played on various nights by Kate Dyler or Julia Plostnicks) argues with the Guides (Margaret Glaccum, Sammi Lappin, Madeleine Miller, Graydon Schlicthter, Eric Stachura) about how they're telling the story!

No, that isn't how our first conversation went!  What do you mean this version of 'our' song makes more thematic sense for the moment?  Wait!  What about our dogs?

She's not wrong.  But of course she's also missing the point.  They have an hour.  Even hitting the highlights in that hour cannot but be a daunting task.  More, as we rapidly realize, this love story ended with no real closure.  How could it, under the circumstances.

Whitney's husband Jake (Carey Matthews and Michael Lutheran) is a writer, hoping quite literally to create the Great American Novel.  He does get stuff published now and then, but is mostly a stay-at-home husband, given to moping about the decision made--too quickly, he comes to believe--of not having children.  A dreamer, he ignores (we're told) how much he actually disliked (note the tense) noise and mess.  Or maybe he would have changed, would have happily paid that price in the end.  Or perhaps he's looking for some excuse for the life he doesn't have.  It could easily be both.

As for Whitney, she loves Jake as he loves her.  She rises to the Head of Human Resources for a major corporation, but the strain of what seems missing in their lives impacts her job.  Her boss is not really sympathetic.  Not at all.

How might they have resolved such issues?  We will not--cannot--know any more than they.  Such is the nature of their tragedy.  In a way, that harkens to the kind of play this turns out to be--a classical Tragedy.  A.R.Gurney in his play Another Antigone has a classics professor make a vital point about Classic Tragedy, as in the works of Sophocles.  The Ancient Greeks did not really see Tragedy as (for example) Shakespeare did, learning about wrong choices.  Instead they focused on the sadness and disaster in life about which we can do nothing.  To love must mean to leave oneself open to being hurt.  Expectation leads to disappointment, at least sometimes.  Beginnings cannot exist without endings.  Desire contains within it loss.

Facing that may be the most human thing we do.  Bees have language.  Beavers build damns.  Ants have war.  Dogs feel love.  Even spiders create what certainly seems like art.  Our species alone endures a sense of tragedy, because we know we're going to die.

I am quite a fan of Theatre Unleashed, and count this production among their best--not only because of the subject matter but because the cast and crew united to make it all work.  A script is a blueprint, the playwright a collaborator.  Mr. Bruggerman was very fortunate in having this group working with him on bringing those words off the page.

Only The Moon Howls plays Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm (with special performances on Mondays February 29 and March 7) at the Belfry Stage, upstairs at 11031 Camarillo Street, North Hollywood CA 91601.  For more information call (818) 849-4039.

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