“Ages of the Moon” now playing at the Atlantic Theater Company's Linda Gross Theater will inevitably be compared to the work of another modern Samuel—that of the Beckett variety—and while the play does lean precariously toward an over-awareness of Beckett’s work, particularly “Waiting for Godot”, Sam Shepard’s latest play avoids a potential miasma of derivation. If “Godot’s” primary concern is the anticipation of an entity that never actually appears, “Moon” is about waiting for an event that is a cosmic certainty. That the pending eclipse is, in fact, pending, grounds the play and its two characters Ames (Stephen Rea) and Byron (Sean McGinley) in a greater sense of reality and immediacy. As a result, “Moon” never reaches the level of Beckett’s extreme existential exchanges and the two friends are able to focus on not what might come to pass, but rather what was.
Byron has invited Ames to his porch for the purpose of drinking Woodford Bourbon Whiskey and waiting for the aforementioned lunar eclipse. It will be many hours before the celestial event is to occur—Ames arrives in the morning and according to Byron’s almanac, the eclipse will be at 5:00AM. Audiences may thank Shepard and Irish director Jimmy Fay that the eclipse arrives in a swift, but full, 75 minutes. Meanwhile, Ames and Byron synchronously swill bourbon and attempt to make conversation. Reminiscing—if not remembering—should come easy for these decades-old friends, but this proves as difficult to do as getting the porch ceiling fan to function properly with any amount of consistency.
“Why do you keep trying to insinuate yourself in my past?” Ames accuses Byron whose later line, “I remember, I remember” seems to echo major themes of the play: the insistence of memory and the prevailing need to assure one’s presence in the world and within history. “What age do you think we’re living in?” Byron asks Ames who uses the literal ages of the moon as written in the almanac to try and prove the rarity of this event and perhaps by extension, the rarity of their friendship.
As with any friendship, however, tempers do erupt. In one scene, as tension mounts, the fan speeds up, whirring violently above their heads. When their feisty natures are expressed in fists, the ensuing fight is difficult to take seriously—but maybe we are not supposed to given the vaudevillian, absurdist qualities of their characters.
After sparks fly—and they do, literally—Ames and Byron settle down for the eclipse. Their speech begins to mirror one another’s and they begin to remember their pasts as one. As they watch the eclipse they begin to build a new memory together. Seeing “Moon,” is not a bad way to make one too.
"Moon" has been extended through March 21st!