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The Moonlight Room

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

One of the scariest places on Earth must be the hospital waiting room; a kind of purgatory on Earth where life-shaking events are always the order of the day. But while horror and sadness lurk in every shadow, hope and rebirth are not far behind. Tristine Skyler embraces all these feelings and more in her new play, The Moonlight Room, which has just landed at Theatre Row's Beckett Theatre.

It originally opened last fall at the TriBeCa Playhouse, but if you missed it (as I did), this would be an ideal time to catch up with one of the most heartfelt and well-executed dramas of the season. The Moonlight Room is a difficult play, but also a beautiful one, an often wrenching story of the creation and mending of the rifts between parents and their children and those rifts' effects on the world.

Jeff Cohen's almost flawless direction of the piece is equally capable of zeroing in on the characters' personal struggles and magnifying them to reflect their impact on society as a whole. The result is a unique one that makes The Moonlight Room both enormous and intimate at the same time, a story that could - and most likely does - happen anywhere at any time.

The specific trouble of the adolescents at the play's center - Sal (Laura Breckenridge) and Joshua (Brendan Sexton III) - is that their friend Lightfield (who never appears onstage) suffered from an overdose of an illegal drug and had to be brought to New York Hospital to have his stomach pumped. But what inspired Lightfield to take the drugs, and the family circumstances that brought all three children to the hospital in the middle of the night, are really the issues Skyler is most interested in exploring. Sal's mother (Kathryn Layng), is suffering from depression brought on in part by the breakup of her marriage; Lightfield's father (Lawrence James) violently blames himself for his son's condition; and Joshua's step-brother Adam (Mark Rosenthal), a doctor, is so caught up in his work that he can't easily relate to Joshua (or anyone else) on a human level.

Skyler, however, suffers from no such problem, and her characters are all believable people. The way Joshua and Sal talk - using words without knowing their full meaning, speaking in certain types of code words or slang when parents are around - paints them as young people caught in the particularly murky areas between childhood and adulthood, while Sal's mother and Lightfield's father are equally uncomfortable with their own positions in life. It's the generation gap examined from both sides simultaneously; the adults are often childlike and the kids are often horrifyingly grown up.

The acting is excellent, too; Breckenridge and Sexton could not be better in depicting their characters' plights, Layng's confliction gives her an uneasy sympathetic nature, and Rosenthal's detachment says as much about Joshua as it does about Adam. James is fine, too, in presenting his character's guilt and anger, but his character often bears the weight of Skyler's slightly more unwieldy emotional speeches; that overwriting is one of the play's few dramatic flaws.

Marion Williams's set is appropriately sterile and unforgiving, and it's nicely accented by Scott Bolman's institutional lighting and Kim Gill's costumes. But these elements are so well integrated into the play, it's difficult to separate them from the rest of the action; everything comes together just that well.

That's because of Skyler's perceptive and intelligent writing providing such a strong foundation. What's even more impressive is that The Moonlight Room is her first play, yet it's every bit as searing and theatrical as one could hope for, mining the desperation and expectation so inherent in the subject in a way that could come alive in the theatre like nowhere else.

That's why, when The Moonlight Room concludes, you might have to remind yourself that you've been watching a play and not peeking in on the heartbreak or spiritual redemption of real people trying to mature - as both parents and children - in New York City. Even so, Skyler's characters never seem anything but real, and The Moonlight Room never seems anything but as searing and moving as real life can be in a hospital waiting room or anywhere else.

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The Moonlight Room
Through May 16
Running Time: 2 hours with one ten-minute intermission
Beckett Theatre @ Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Telecharge