Also see Fred's review of Three Hotels
The play, presented in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, on its intimate thrust stage, is not a generic late sixties piece. In fact, here is one wish that a playbill note indicated that we are watching 1965-1966, which predates the height of the Vietnam protest era. Demonstrations are beginning but are not yet in full flower.
Most of the young men in the play are loud or boorish or obnoxious. It is difficult to summon sympathy for any save Bob (Hale Appleman) who, during the final scene, tries to talk about the recent loss of his mother. Otherwise, the guys, who are pretty much full of themselves, cannot tune in to anyone else, particularly women. Mike (Joe Paulik) does not see much further than his own myopic world. Cootie (Matt R. Harrington) is clever but limited. Dick (Aaron Costa Ganis) is obsessed with his hamburgers and insists that no one pilfer one from the archaic icebox. Dick also has more than eyes for Kathy (Norma Kuhling), Bob's most attractive girlfriend. Norman (Carter Gill), more nerdy than the others, a mathematics graduate school student who wears Wallabees, reads a great deal. He decides that setting himself afire might be the way to express a newly discovered political passion.
Spaced-out Shelly (Samantha Richert), who meets Norman at a rally, comes to the apartment in search of him. She, a zoned-out young woman, is most at ease sitting beneath the wooden table. Weller laces the drama with a fair portion of comedy and Richert is more than a few hoots.
It is difficult to depict the 1960s and early 1970s with authenticity. Moonchildren gets it right. The apartment is suitably worn out: old couch with a purple covering atop it, shabby furnishings, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan poster, glass milk bottles artfully situated, and a group of individuals attempting to navigate and move on, even just a bit, with life and times. After all, most are about to graduate. The locale is an unnamed college town. Set designer John Traub and costumer George Veale are spot perfect with physical selections. Allen's music during each interlude, as props are placed, is a Bob Dylan songconsistent and ideal. J Hagenbuckle is the sound designer and an important contributor.
Some loopy characters lend texture to the play. Ralph (Jesse Hinson) appears to ostensibly sell encyclopedias; later, Hinson will play Effing. Actor Kale Brown plays both Mr. Willis and Cootie's father. Andrew Joffe is double-cast as Bream and The Milkman. Uncle Murray, bringing sad news, is played by David Wade Smith. Actor Jeff Kent is cast as Lucky.
Weller's women are more affecting and responsive than are his male characters. Kathy and Ruth (Miriam Silverman) sit, during the third scene, at the wooden kitchen table. Kathy has been with Bob for two years but he really did not inform her that he received a notice to appear for his draft physical. The playwright's period piece dialogue rings true when Kathy says, "You think you're really relating like crazy and then, I don't know, it's a whole new scene. It's like you don't even know him anymore." Ruth's advice: "Maybe you ought to stop relating so hard."
The strength of Moonchildren rests with Weller's ability to paint characters, provide interface, and represent a specific time in America. Karen Allen is, perhaps, best known for her starring movie role in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Those wishing to watch masterful acting might check out the 1987 film version of The Glass Menagerie which features Allen as Laura and is directed by Paul Newman. These days, Allen spends some time at her clothing store in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. She also teaches at Bard College at Simon's Rock and led some of her students, two years ago, in a production of Moonchildren. Turning sixty in a few months, she zeroes in on these months during lives of mid-1960's college students with perception, precision, and knowledge.
While it works beautifully as a character study, Weller's play is not driven by plot. Those looking for riveting drama will not find it here. That, however, is not the point of the play. It provides snapshots of people during a life segment and the ensemble, as a while, is highly adept. Kuhling, now studying for her BFA at Emerson College, is most moving as Kathy.
Moonchildren continues at BTF's Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge, Massachusetts through July 16th. For ticket information, call (413) 298-5576 or visit www.berkshsiretheatre.org.
- Fred Sokol