Moonchildren by Michael Weller. Directed by Karen Allen.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"...39 cents for gingham."
Carter Gill, Joe Paulik and Matt R. Harrington; photo: Jaime Davidson
I cannot believe how many short-run shows I have seen. Michael Wellerís "Moonchildren" opened in New York City at the Royale Theater and, with its previews, lasted only 28 performances. It was directed by Alan Schneider and was produced by David Merrick. If those credentials werenít enough the cast included Maureen Anderman as Ruth, Stephen Collins as Dick, Kevin Conway as Mike, Cara Duff-MacCormick as Shelly, Jill Eikenberry as Kathy, Christopher Guest as Norman, Edward Hermann as Cootie (Mel), Robert Prosky as Mr. Willis, James Woods as Bob Rettie (Job), and Louis Zorich as Police Officer Bream. Itís a veritable A-list of future stars. Three of these actors won Theatre World Awards, Cara Duff-MacCormick was nominated for a Tony Award and Michael Weller won the 1972 Drama Desk Award for Most Promising Playwright.
What I remember about the play, back in 1972, was how many of the characters I recognized as close friends. Seeing it now, at the Berkshire Theatre Festivalís Unicorn Theatre, those characters still emerge as people I once knew, but with the realization that I donít really care about them any longer. It makes me wonder if I ever really did.
There is a very talented cast at work here. Cast as much for type, I suspect, as for talent they each seem to "fit the bill." Carter Gill is a fragile, frail Norman, a compulsive who acts without thinking of consequences. Hale Appleman is a tall, quirky, overly sensitive yet reluctantly communicative Bob. Aaron Costa Ganis is an aggressive and relentlessly rude Dick. Joe Paulik and Matt R. Harrington are the overly compatible, loose-living and comfortable with each otherís changeable moods Mike and Mel (Cootie) while Norma Kuhling is a perfectly reasonable yet utterly charming Kathy and Miriam Silverman is a charmingly clinging Ruth. Have I heard anything of them before, no, but then neither had I heard, in 1972, of any of the cast of the play. All I can surmise here is that the "who" matters much less than the "how" and the "when." This new ensemble works well, as though its participants had actually been rooming together for three years already.
Samantha Richert is a dangerously endearing Shelly. While the play is ostensibly set in an apartment building somewhere in the vicinity of Brandeis University, Jesse Hinson has come from there to play the dual roles of the encyclopedia salesman Ralph and then the stupid cop Effing.
One of the problems within the structure of Wellerís play is the way all the characters not living together in this apartment are presented as caricatures. The Landlord, the neighbor (a gruff and weird Jeff Kent), the cops and the salesman, the uncle and the father are all presented as broad-stroke settlers of the mid-west, the plains-state-people. They are not truly essential to the piece and so they donít help.
Director Karen Allen has not gotten the help for this show that she needs. It is supposedly set in 1965 and yet nothing about these people reflects that period other than their artwork, protest signs and a principal garment. Everything else, including the girlsí makeup, and their clothing is totally out of period. Ditto the menís hair and clothes as well. This is the directorís first show and she exhibits a good eye for details such as stage pictures. When the company is in full swing she has seemingly guided them into their postures and poses and she does not ever confuse us with a faulty eye. Nevertheless as they begin to move and to talk and walk they take on more of their own identities.
This a very good production of a play that never quite delivered on its promises, or premises, and it still doesnít do so. There are mistakes in the writing that no directing, no acting can ever fix. Go see the play but donít expect to come away feeling youíve gotten your moneysworth. You will have an interesting time, but like living on bubble gum would be, you wonít be satisfied at the end of the day.
Samantha Richert as Shelly; photo: Jaime Davidson
Moonchildren plays at the Unicorn Theatre on Route 7 in Stockbridge, MA through July 16. For information and tickets contact the box office at 413-298-5576.