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PigPen Theatre Co. brings clever take to ‘Old Man’ themes

'The Old Man The Old Moon' creates an epic new mythology centered man whose job is collect spilled light refill

"The Old Man and The Old Moon" creates an epic new mythology, centered on a man whose job is to collect spilled light to refill the leaking moon at PigPen Theatre Company (Clockwise from Top Left) Ryan Melia, Ben Ferguson, Alex Falberg, Matt Nuernberger

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‘THE OLD MAN AND THE OLD MOON’

RECOMMENDED

When: Through Nov. 10

Where: PigPen Theatre Company at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Ct. Glencoe

Tickets : $35-$70

Info: (847) 242-6000;
writerstheatre.org

Run time: 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission

Updated: September 16, 2013 9:21AM



Attention: Boys at play. In fact, seven very attractive, distinctive-looking twentysomething ones who can act, spin a story, sing, and play musical instruments as accompaniment to their self-devised songs which range from country-style ballads and quirky sea chanties to a Brecht-Weill-like number.

They call themselves the PigPen Theatre Co., and are based in New York. But they have taken up temporary residence at Glencoe’s Writers Theatre with their whimsical, artfully handcrafted show, “The Old Man and the Old Moon.” The production has arrived courtesy of director Stuart Carden, who mentored them while students at Carnegie Mellon University.

The show is certainly a change of pace from the usual Writers fare of meticulously done classics, contemporary plays and musicals. The PigPen lads’ work — not entirely different from that created by such Chicago entities as Redmoon and The House — feeds on old-fashioned storytelling and a seamless ensemble esprit, with embellishment in the form of music (they are marvelous instrumentalists), movement, light, sound, elegant shadow puppets and just the right degree of self-effacing humor. The only thing lacking here is a strong-willed editor. The show, which has far too many endings, would be much more magical at 85 minutes as opposed to its current running time of 105 minutes.

“The Old Man and the Old Moon” is about many things: The way love between a long married couple can be taken for granted only at peril; at the way assuming a new identity can be suprisingly liberating; about how a brush with death can be life-affirming; about how our environment is being defiled; about the lunacy of war (sailors here go off to fight “the others”); about the cyclical properties of the moon; about how a dog (even one made of a rag mop and plastic water bottle) remains man’s best friend. It freely echoes the biblical Jonah and the whale story, “Moby-Dick,” “Robinson Crusoe,” “Orpheus and Eurydice” and more.

The seven works as one leave strong marks on their characters, with Ryan Melia as the hapless Old Man; Alex Falberg as both his wife and a stylish sea captain; Matt Nuernberger as the charismatic, golden-voiced lead storyteller; Ben Ferguson as the Old Man’s companion in the prisonlike belly of a tuna; Dan Weschler as a dog lover; Curtis Gillen as a spirited sailor, and Arya Shahi as a sharp percussionist.

A ship’s deck set of raw planks by Lydia Fine and Bart Cortright wonderfully transforms the Writers space, with the actors’ endlessly ingenious use of lights and Mikhail Fiksel’s pristine sound design, all crucial in bringing the story to life.

Often it is the most childlike tricks — as when a simple sheet and toylike sail are instantly transformed into a skiff for the Old Man and a dog — that generate the greatest delight. At Thursday’s opening it generated spontaneous laughter and applause.

Email: hweiss@suntimes.com

Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic



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