Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Donna Orbits the Moon Implodes at New Jersey Rep
The middle-aged, small-town Donna enters the room with a pan of gooseberry blondies, and explains to us that she bakes them for charity bake sales. She is clearly troubled and distracted. She tells us that lately she inexplicably has been acting out in a hostile and/or violent fashion. At length, she tells us of a series of increasingly bizarre behaviors. She slapped the hand of an older womanin her mid sixtieswho was reaching for the same bag of flour as she was. She is lonely because Gil has been working till after her bedtime nightly for a while and now is also working weekends. She dropped a rib steak that she was making for Gil. She proceeded to wipe the kitchen floor and other kitchen areas with it, then put it back in the microwave and left a note for Gil that it was there for him. When another car cut her off, she went into maniacal road rage and (with a friend in her car) chased after the offender for over an hour until she ran out of gas. At church, for no apparent reason, she was about to "brain" the Mayor with a hymnal. In church, she felt herself orbiting into space and then collapsed on the asphalt outside. She next "woke up" in a dream in which she was in her chair doing her macramé while a parade of people marched past her. Then, she and her house flew into space. Donna then awoke in a hospital bed with her daughter at her bedside.
Then Donna heard a voice (which we also hear). The voice is for some unexplained reason a match for the robotic voice of HAL in Kubrick's 2001. It intones "Hello, Donna. My name is Buzz Aldrin. I'm here to help you land." In one of several jibes at the ignorance of provincial, small-town Americans, Donna's best friend opines that Buzz Aldrin is the toy space ranger from Pixar's Toy Story. However, Donna knows that the voice in her head is that of the second man in space.
Donna tells us of encounters with various townsfolk. She describes and often mockingly imitates them. I assume that Donna's stand-up comedy descriptions of their terrible behaviors are meant for comic relief.
Donna describes ongoing encounters with her Gil and their daughter Terri, but only talks of their son Charlie when describing affectionate memories of his school years. One does not have to be very savvy to realize that something very bad has happened to Charlie earlier than playwright Ian August wants us to know this.
Periodically, thunder roars, Donna and her room begin to orbit, and the voice of HAL Aldrin is heard ("You need to go up before you can land") teasing us with the false hope that this tedious farrago is reaching its denouement and will shortly come to an end.
Donna describes discussions with her daughter (who arranges for Donna to see a psychologist). Her husband becomes furious with her for her behavior, and moves out to stay with their daughter.
After Donna discovers the copy of a children's biography of Buzz Aldrin that Gil gave their son when he was in the fourth grade with his inscription, "To Charlie, My own American hero, Dad," she reveals the intended tear-jerking secret that Charlie is hospitalized in a permanent vegetative state. Only he survived when a roadside bomb exploded last year killing the rest of his patrol. Donna tells us that she is angry because she was denied the mourning and closure that the other parents had because her son had not died.
The revelation of Charlie's tragedy makes Donna's evening-long account of ensuing events patently false. After the revelation of the underlying cause of her disturbed behavior, it is implausible that Gil or her friends would have acted and spoken to her as callously as she has described. Donna could have wildly distorted events while blocking her son's tragedy from her mind, but this fails to satisfactorily explain her detailed description of what we now see as the wretched behavior of those closest to her.
(End of spoiler)
It is not until nearly the end of this play, when The Mall of America is mentioned, that we learn that it is set in Minnesota.
Director Marc Geller has realized August's vision right down to the enlivening comic caricature mockery of Donna's friends. New Jersey Rep's remarkable resident scenic designer Jessica Parks has created a ramshackle, yet richly imaginative set strewn with the seemingly endless detritus of Donna's life for N.J. Rep's lobby area second stage.
Regrettably, Ian August's 75-minute, attenuated one-act Donna Orbits the Moon is tedious and repetitious.
Donna Orbits the Moon continues performances (Evenings: Thursday, Friday, Saturday 8 pm/ Evenings: Saturday 3 pm; Sunday 2 pm) through October 2, 2011, at the New Jersey Repertory Theatre, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, New Jersey 07740 Box Office: 732-229-3166; online: www.njrep.org.
Donna Orbits the Moon by Ian August; directed by Marc Geller