Updated: Sep 19, 2021
A gloriously inventive, boundary-blurring musical fantasy!
The Electric Company Theatre, in their inaugural season at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center, presents a diverting if somewhat mythical mash-up of hootenanny and fairy tale for their very first full production: “The Old Man and the Old Moon.”
With book, music and lyrics by PigPen Theatre Company, the show features seven frisky company members in a two-act piece stuffed to the brim with gooey Americana, whipping up the audience impulsively into a folksy, everybody-clap frenzy with their vintage, 1950’s charm.
It started in 2007, when seven freshmen drama students at Carnegie Mellon University started creating theatrical productions in their dorm rooms using very simple props. The shows, which were described as “child geniuses at play,” were a mix of puppetry and folk music, and all manner of derring-do — a hybrid genre that encouraged invention and fun.
In like fashion, The Electric Company, with a luminously lo-fi spectacle that elevates traditional storytelling to high art, takes us to the end of the world when an old man abandons his duty of filling the moon with liquid light to search for his missing wife who’s gone a’roamin’ — sailed away in pursuit of some half-remembered melody that keeps pulling her farther and farther westward across stormy seas. When the old man goes in search of her, the moon goes dark, and the planet goes berserk.
This rollicking array of ever-changing characters, inventive theatrical effects, and infectious contemporary folk sound, transforms these seven delightful actor musicians from the seemingly ordinary into sheer wonder.
The timeless fable is directed by Callie Prendiville Johnson and is a sea-faring epic that spans apocalyptic storms, civil wars, leviathans and cantankerous ghosts. An underlying theme is the caretaker’s struggle to confront change.
The players are all familiar to you. The cast includes Andrew Border as Perry and others, Wesley Chavez as Matheson and others, Trey Everett as Llewelyn and others, Bobby Gonzales as The Old Man, Hector Gonzalez as Violin and ensemble, Brian Johnson as Callahan and others, Wyatt Logan as Mabelu and others, Alfonso Neavez as The Captain and others and Chris Standifer as Cookie and others.
Ensemble members are Lukas Garberg (also Asst. Scenic Designer), Ron Gutterman, Miles Henry and Taiyo Inoue. Zoe Kinne is Stage Manager and Matt Mankiewicz is the Technical Designer.
The cast is all men and not one of them is old, and there’s quite a bit of literal shadow play, using sheets and light. It’s classily stylized in the sparse-on-purpose manner, all in natural wood and cotton — the set looks like it might have come from a Restoration Hardware. And the music is wonderful, equidistant between traditional show tunes and the hushed, purist vocals of perhaps The Kingston Trio or The Weavers.
Beneath the talented actors and adorable costumes are profound snips of dialogue. Inside the belly of a sea monster, one sailor says to another who is trying to convince him to escape, “Here I am and here I be, until I shall be no more.”
There’s something charming and important about this tradition of radical acceptance, to which melodies, whining guitars and breakup-imagery lend themselves so nicely. The idea that one can always just acquiesce to absolutely everything seems too innocent, childish. But it’s really a viable, starlit strategy to navigate through the darkness. It’s a hardcore idea that serves the classy, cute poetics of “The Old Man and the Old Moon” well by folding real nutrition into all the sweetness.
At times, the show brings to mind a group of guys just sitting down to a campfire hoedown, all with musically attuned synchronicity that comes only with long acquaintance, then suddenly surprises you with an eye-popping series of special effects that are all the more delightful for betraying their homemade origins.
The play really addresses that quandary that all of us have had throughout our lives in big and small ways. When do we hold onto what’s comfortable and the things that we know, and when do we step out into the unknown? When do we acquire that ability to go to extraordinary places in an instant using everyday, very simple items like a flash light, some cardboard, accompanied by a sense of wander and wonder. And wander you will, just like the old man who meanders through the realms of legend.
Electric Company Theatre, in residence at The Muckenthaler Cultural Center, presents “The Old Man and the Old Moon,” originally written by PigPen Theatre Company. This seafaring adventure will take place on the south lawn of the mansion, and audiences are invited to bring their own blankets or lawn chairs for a night of inventive theatre and live music under the moon.
Performance times are at 7:30pm on these dates: Tuesday, 09/14/2021, Wednesday, 09/15/2021, Tuesday, 09/21/2021, and Wednesday, 09/22/2021. Tickets are $20 each, available at electriccompanytheatre.org
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report