by Sam Shepard
February 7-23/ 2014
On the night of a lunar eclipse; on the porch of an isolated Kentucky fishing shack, Ames has summoned his best friend Byron from out west to console him after his wife finds a note from a young girl scrawled on his Montana fishing map. Over shots of Woodford Reserve, they hash out a hilarious shared past, in which neither man seems to clearly recall the other’s presence.
Emmy nominated actor Patrick Tovatt comes out of retirement to reunite with director Steve Woodring and the Dean of Louisville actors Matt Orme for what will surely be a tour de force fit for the most discriminating audience.
Ages of the Moon was previously presented by : The Abbey Theatre in Ireland and Atlantic Theatre in New York City.
READ THE REVIEWS BELOW:
Nearly two years ago Bunbury Theatre brought Sam Shepard’s gripping play “Buried” to the stage — marking that play’s first staging in Louisville. That fall, Actors Theatre of Louisville followed with a production of the playwright’s “True West.” Both are considered hallmarks of American theatre.
Now, Bunbury has opened a production of Shepard’s “Ages of the Moon,” his most recent play written for actors Stephen Rea and Sean McGinley who appeared in its 2009 premiere in Dublin and in the 2010 American premiere in New York.
In Louisville, director Steve Woodring, who also directed “Buried Child,” has a proficient cast with guest artist Patrick Tovatt, an actor who had a long history of appearing in plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville and in several soap operas, and Matt Orme, a longtime Bunbury actor. Both portray two older men in a play written by an older Shepard, who is now 70.
Like Shepard’s earlier plays, this one explores the power of memories, no matter how imperfect. While memories have the ability to connect people, Shepard shows their power to alienate people.
In “Ages of the Moon,” the protagonist, Ames (Tovatt), has already alienated himself by moving to a remote cabin in rural Kentucky. There, the setting is simple — the porch with two Adirondack chairs and a table. There Ames reunites with Byron (Orme) while both drink bourbon from jelly jars and struggle to connect retelling their memories from youth.
But the two have not seen each other for decades. Byron only came to Kentucky by bus because Ames called in desperation after a split with his wife following his fling with a much younger woman.
Byron, having found Ames alone and in a self-imposed exile, struggles to pacify his old friend. Despite his efforts, disagreements about what actually happened rub the impulsive Ames the wrong way, giving way to gunfire and blows. This is a Shepard play, by the way.
Tovatt’s gives a subtle and heartfelt portrayal of Ames as a defensive man who is set in his ways while struggling to change and not knowing how. His outbursts, lead him to regrets and confessions of his own failings while Orme’s Byron seems more at peace with himself.
By the end, there is a powerful connection between the men that occurs not only through the sparse dialogue but through Woodring’s direction and Tovatt’s and Orme’s performances.
The play, which runs about 90 minutes without an intermission, is short but powerful. It’s bound to stew in the mind long after leaving the theater. / Elizabeth Kramer...The Courier Journal
Ages of the Moon
Written by Sam Shepard
Directed by Steve Woodring
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2014 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Ages of the Moon occupies unusual territory in Sam Shepard’s body of work. Surprisingly gentle and tender-hearted for the mind who wrote Curse of the Starving Class,True West, and Buried Child, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play that received its Louisville premiere from Bunbury and director Steve Woodring less than two years ago.
Woodring is back in the director’s chair for this production of the not-yet-published play about two aging friends, Byron and Ames, spending an evening on a cabin porch in Kentucky drinking Woodford Reserve and reminiscing about old times and current states-of-mind. This is only the fourth full-stage presentation of the script, but whatever witchcraft Bunbury Producing Director Juergen Tossman conjured to secure the rights, it was worth it.
Not that it stands as Shepard’s finest. Far from it. It never develops the deep, dark currents of family dysfunctionality that characterize his strongest work, limiting itself in scope to a very personal relationship between two men with no blood ties. It might be that those humbler goals position Ages of Moon as one of his more accessible plays, and the genial, eccentric interaction between the two men easily engages the audience. If it lacks a grander ambition, it nonetheless is rich with introspection and an exploration of identity that is cast in far less epic terms than True West.
In a talk back session following the play, Patrick Tovatt, who plays Ames, suggested that Shepard is here exploring two sides of his own personality, so that the conflict and resolution on display are a reflection of the author’s own personal struggles late in life. Such a reading emphasizes the intimate and yet confounding dynamic between the two men and and how choice an opportunity it becomes for the right two actors.
In Tovatt and Matt Orme, who plays Byron, Bunbury is fortunate to have found a worthwhile pair who are more than up to the task. Tovatt is a volatile Ames, perfectly navigating the sudden emotional transitions of the character with care and feeling, while Orme confidently uses Byron’s wry sense of humor to stabilize the interaction. At least that is how the play begins. Before they are done, these two veterans manage the transference of the two personalities with such subtlety and detail as to seem entirely organic and natural. These are two of the most likable characters in Shepard’s work but Tovatt and Orme avoid pandering and cheap effect by trusting by playing these men honestly.
It is also one of Shepard’s funnier plays, and no laughs are squandered. If the more sombre moments of the play seem to not move us as much as the humor, I think it is because the playwright is characteristically judicious in avoiding sentimentality and allows it here in such careful measure. Still, it is ultimately a touching story.
The design work is striking, with a beautifully realized set by Tom Tutino and costumes by Teresa Greer. Jesse Alford’s lighting was well-judged except for one over-emphatic moment towards the end, and the sound, which had no credit in the program, also displayed inconsistency in how volume and density were overstated at a key moment. Although the moments were slightly distracting, they are but quibbles. This is a first-class production.