By Charlene Baldridge | Theater Review
PigPen Theatre Company’s “The Old Man and the Old Moon” — playing through June 18 in its West Coast premiere at The Old Globe’s Shiley Theatre — is a devised and epic fairy tale packed into 90 fleeting moments in time.
Swept up in visual beauty, wonder and music, the opening night audience on May 18 had a rip-roaring good time and at the journey’s conclusion leapt to its feet in vigorous, vociferous response.
On the plaza afterward, the buzz continued. Lovers of oral tradition and good music, wonderfully sung and foot-stompingly played, found “Old Man” a rare theatrical treat indeed.
The Old Man (Ryan Melia) and the Old Woman (Alex Falberg, who plays multiple roles as well) have lived together for many years, so many in fact that they sometimes are neglectful of one another.
One day, the Old Woman unaccountably takes a boat and sails away. The Old Man, charged for eons with filling the leaky moon with light, goes after her, and thus, the world is plunged into darkness.
“The Old Man and the Old Moon” which was written and directed by company members and Stuart Carden, springs from Celtic and Greek lore and reminds one of other odysseys with a redemptive ending that results in restoration of love, light and order.
Subtitled “A New Musical Folktale,” the work (think Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline,” Homer’s “The Odyssey” and Voltaire’s “Candide”) unfolds upon a rude, multi-level set (by scenic, puppet and costume designer Lydia Fine) made of wood.
These designs afford the deployed band of player/musicians the very best platform, theatrically and musically. When they are arrayed downstage, however, the effect is most thrilling, and gradually each becomes a vivid character in the tale, to which many assuredly will return again and again.
Other company members are Matt Nuernberger as Matheson, who acts as narrator; Dan Weschler as Callahan and others; Curtis Gillen as Llewelyn and others; and Arya Shahi as Cookie and others.
Well-known recording artists, their instrumentation throughout the show comprises banjos, drums, bells, accordion and various others. Lighting designer is Bart Cartright, and sound designer is Mikhail Fiksel.
The music and the tale telling are seamlessly and amazingly interwoven, with slight separations between episodes in the Old Man’s frantic pursuit of the Old Woman.
To find his wife, he must go ever westward to a “city buried by time,” along the way having traversed the sea, the land and the belly of a gigantic fish, ultimately to find his wife, return to his moon-tending post, renew his marriage and restore order, creating at last the phases of the moon as we know them.
After all the chaos, it is a stupefying, satisfying and splendid ending.
All the elements of epic storytelling are here, full of shadows and brightness, wrapped up in PigPen’s listenable music, amazing puppetry and light shows. Those who embark on the journey are amply rewarded.
For those who want more, PigPen Theatre Company also plays two concert gigs while in San Diego: June 5 and 19 at the House of Blues, located at 1055 Fifth Ave., Downtown.
—Charlene Baldridge has been writing about the arts since 1979. Follow her blog at charlenecriticism.blogspot.com or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.