By Sam Shepard. Directed by John Cooper. At Presentation House Theatre on Thursday, October 27. Continues until November 6
There’s a famous quote that says, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” In Lonesome Moon Productions’ Ages of the Moon, a play by Sam Shepard, a one-day hangout session between two old friends brings up lifelong jealousies, frustrations, and vulnerabilities while the two wait to witness a lunar eclipse that night. It serves as an ironic metaphor for the play’s story, as the show examines how the choices we make in life, whether they seem significant or not to us at the time, shape our paths.
The entire play takes place in what seems at first to be the most uninspiring of settings—the porch of a weathered country house. The house’s resident, Ames (Jon Bryden), has invited his long-time friend Byron (Alec Willows) over for some much-needed buddy time after Ames’s recent infidelity with a decades-younger 20-something woman resulted in him getting dumped by his wife.
At first glance, the men’s conversations seem rather pointless, including references to sex and pouring bourbon over ice cream. However, it soon becomes clear that they’re not able to fully recount incidents from the past without experiencing ambiguity and missing pieces in their stories. It’s a commentary on aging, but also on how our memories are never really accurate in the first place, since our individual lenses limit our interpretations of life. A lot of this humour pokes fun at aging, such as when Ames and Byron get into a physical scuffle but end up huffing and puffing before long. There’s also an entertaining section of the play involving a broken fan, a frustrated Ames with a rifle, and a terrified Byron.
Both Willows and Bryden deliver strong performances that capture the struggles of aging. From drunken outbursts to health-related incidents, both actors masterfully employ physicality and well-developed characterization to make their roles compelling and believable.
At times, though, Bryden pushes too hard and somewhat overacts, which diminishes the authenticity of the story. Willows, however, is exceptional in the subtlety with which he brings his character to life. There are times when Byron is staring off into space and you can’t help but be intrigued by the look in his eyes, wishing you knew what he was thinking.
Director John Cooper has done a solid job staging the show, utilizing all the space available at Presentation House. At one point, the actors come into the house, extending the performance space into the audience. At other points, they position themselves either in front or on the steps of the country-house porch. Kudos to designer Ted Roberts, whose set fills the stage space nicely, with no restricted sightlines; this is worth noting, because even though most seats face the stage head-on, a section of the audience faces the stage from the side. The rhythm of the show flows nicely and comes across naturally.
On opening night, the audience, which consisted of many individuals mature in age, seemed to react positively to the show, bursting out in laughter throughout and rising to their feet during the curtain call. Undoubtedly, many of them were able to relate to the story’s characters reflecting on their lives. However, Ages of the Moon can be appreciated by audience members of any age, as most of us have had moments in our lives when we’ve looked back and thought, “How did I end up here?”
Most importantly, Ages of the Moon is a reminder to appreciate the relationships we value, as the passing of people from our lives is as inevitable as the moon being eclipsed into darkness.