I'll admit that when I first heard about the PigPen Theatre Co.'s The Old Man and The Old Moon at the New Victory Theater, I was skeptical. Despite all the hype and my editors raving about the show, I had reservations. After all, there were to be shadow puppets.
My resistance lasted exactly two minutes, roughly the time it took me to take my seat and cast my eyes on the stage. First, there was the set. The work of scenic designer Lydia Fine, it was an interior designer’s rustic chic dream come true, constructed of wooden platforms and colorful glass bottles accentuated by glowing lights that hung from from the ceiling. As if my Pinterest-loving heart wasn’t already enchanted, lighting designer Bart Cortright later worked some kind of wonderful sorcery to create a lake of liquid light from the glass bottles.
The set, though, was soon to take second fiddle as the cast walked out into the stage with their instruments and introduced themselves. What they did next cast all my doubts away -- they opened their mouths and started to sing. Channeling the likes of Mumford and Sons, their voices rang out in perfect lilting harmony, their banjos plucked at our heartstrings, and within seconds the crowd was stomping their feet and clapping along. The excited whoops? That may have been me.
The Old Man and The Old Moon tells the story of how the phases of the moon came to be. The tale focuses on the old man, played by Ryan Melia, and his wife, played by Alex Falberg. The old man is tasked with refilling the moon with its light because, wouldn't you know, it has a leak. One night the man discovers that his wife has taken off to sail to the end of the world and decides to pursue her. The rest of the tale tells the adventures of the old man on his journey and those who help him along the way, including a dog that can fish, two men with an air balloon, and a gang of good-natured goofs who crew the ship he sets sail on.
The cast, all graduates of the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama, is excellent. Melia was completely charming as the Old Man and Ben Ferguson’s Lieutenant Pericles had the whole audience in stitches. Matt Nuernberger was absolutely charming as our narrator, First Mate Matheson. Each of the members played a variety of roles while also being responsible for manipulating the set, singing, and playing instruments -- sometimes all within the same scene! How they managed to do all that and still hold onto their accents is a mystery. I expect a lot of their seamless work is thanks to co-director Stuart Carden and stage manager Vanessa Coakley, along with the rest of the crew.
The true showstopper is the music. Melia left me speechless with his vocals and I’m pretty sure that Falberg could play a fork and make it sound like an orchestra, marching to the beat of Arya Shahi’s drumming. Dan Weschler did the improbable in proving that rock stars can play the accordion and Curtis Gillen delivered one of my favorite numbers from the belly of the fish. All together they create some of the best harmonies I’ve ever heard. It’s almost unfair that this much talent can be found in one company!
Oh, and those shadow puppets I was worried about? Completely awesome! Far from being your Uncle Bob’s shadow dog, the boys of PigPen were armed with whole towns, fancy ships, and flying sharks!
Performances of The Old Man and the Old Moon continue at the New Victory Theater through October 13, and tickets are available here. Do yourself a favor and go see it, then go see it again. It’s just that good.
Through October 13 at the New Victory Theater.