Out of the Shadows: PigPen Theatre Company Takes us to a Land of Make-Believe

The cast of The Old Man and the Old Moon, from left: Arya Shahi, Ryan Melia, Curtis Gillen, Ben Ferguson, Dan Weschler,  Matt Neurnberger and Alex Falberg.
(Photo via Broadway.com)
Over the years, New York has seen its fair share of fairy tale- and folklore-driven theatre; from The Lion King and Wicked to the more recent Peter and the Starcatcher, there’s been an emergence  of innovative re-telling of classic epics in a way that is suitable for audiences of both adults and children alike.  PigPen Theatre Companys The Old Man and the Old Moon is just that: a charming nostalgic gem, perfectly combining elements of puppetry and lighting, taking us on an adventure our 5 year-old selves would surely be envious of.

The Old Man and the Old Moon is an Irish folktale — narrated by Matt Neurnberger and cast — which tells of the eponymous Old Man (Ryan Melia), whose sole duty is to refill the moon with its light every time it “leaks” (presumably the reason why we see the moon waxing and waning).  Life for the Old Man and his wife is simple, thought not without its mundanities, and it is because of this that his wife prods him to go on an adventure to a mysterious island.  The Old Man hesitates and finally refuses, reluctant to leave his post at the leaky moon.  Undeterred by her husband’s seemingly absent sense of adventure, the Old Man’s wife takes their boat  in the middle of the night and sets forth for the mystical island whose haunting music beckons her from afar, like a siren.  By morning, the Old Man discovers his wife missing and is now left with a choice: stay at his post and wait, in the hope that she will eventually return; or leave the moon and chase after her himself.  Ultimately, he chooses the latter and what follows is a turbulent journey across seas, skies and even deserts.  Along the way, we join the Old Man as he meets a gang of sailors, warmongers, ghosts and much more as he continues on his quest.  

The first collaboration between the several members of the cast that make up PigPen, Old Man has its roots in the group’s early days as students at Carnegie Mellon University‘s School of Drama and is their first full-length production.  It perhaps because of this history with the show that its band of “lost boys” give such an energetic performance; throughout, they seemed work well as a unit onstage, as if they were very in tune with one another.  Watching them play the story’s array of vagabond misfits felt very much like being five and watching your friends play make-believe.

A wonderful presentation of song and story, the boys of PigPen Theatre bring us back to a simpler time when when storytelling involved nothing more than a flashlight and your imagination.  The production cleverly plays with light and shadow to help tell the Old Man’s story, and much of Bart Cortwright‘s beautiful lighting installations and fixtures help to create different worlds in a very simple and elegant way, but no less effective.

Another driving force in the show was the beautiful folk music, played by members of the cast and helps narrate the story in a more abstract manner than the dialogue itself.  Much in the way troubadours of the Middle Ages were storytellers of their time, PigPen’s score (some of which can be found on their album, Bremen) harkens to the Irish culture, which is ingrained with traditions of storytelling, both oral and aural.  The music is at once rousing and soothing, contemplative and mysterious; it certainly helps to put you in that stories-by-the-campfire mood, which is all you need when you see this fantastic production.

The Old Man and the Old Moon is a riveting tale, bound to delight your whole family and re-kindle the child in you.  The show ends its run on the 6th of this month (that’s this Sunday!), so if you haven’t seen it, catch it before it closes!

The Old Man and  The Old Moon 
is playing through January 6th
at The Gym at Judson.
For more information about this production,
click here.


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