The cast of “The Old Man and the Old Moon” (Don Ipock)
KC Rep’s current production is a whimsical, bittersweet fable for all ages, telling the story of a time when the moon did not always appear in changing phases. An Old Man (Anand Nagraj) has the job of gathering up the light that seeps out of the moon every day and filling it back up. The task consumes his attention to the point where he’s forgotten a promise made long ago to his wife, that they would have adventures and travel. The Old Woman still longs for that life, though, for excitement or even just a bit of merriment. When her husband refuses to join her, he awakens one day to find her gone. Determined to find her, he finds himself on the sorts of fantastical adventures he’d long been avoiding.
The story is beautiful and melancholy but the real joy in “The Old Man and the Old Moon” is the storytelling methods themselves. The show was originally developed by the PigPen Theatre Co., known for their unique blend of music and inventive multimedia theatrical experiences. The original run of the show was co-directed (along with the troupe) by Stuart Carden, now KCRep’s Artistic Director, and he brings the show to life spectacularly here at his new home base.
“The Old Man and the Old Moon” blends traditional theatre, music, and multiple forms of puppetry for a delightful experience. Everyday objects transform into set pieces and imaginative props—even full characters. A bedsheet can become a sailboat, umbrellas are convincing cannons, and a mop can become a faithful canine companion. The image we’re presented with is a dazzlingly whimsical DIY folk aesthetic but crafted with carefully sculpted precision.
Lydia Fine’s set is designed to look like the coolest bar in Austin: rustic planks and platforms, mason jars and collections of colored bottles strewn about. It gives the impression of haphazard whimsy but, like Fine’s gorgeous shadow puppets, there is profoundly exquisite craftsmanship behind it all. The same goes for Bart Cortright’s deeply immersive lighting, including lighting up those aforementioned jars and bottles with a rich, fairytale storytime effect.
While Nagraj is fantastic as the titular Old Man, the real star of this show is the entire ensemble. The small cast of actors (Liz Chidester, Ashley Pankow, Cody Proctor, Edward Rosini, Jake Saleh, Marisa B. Tejeda) plays off each other with captivating chemistry, moving with graceful synergy between multiple characters, as well as multiple instruments, as the ensemble also serves as the on-stage band. Pankow stands out with special comedic charm and as the sometimes-narrator, Proctor drives the show forward without overpowering its delicate balance, but the team is solid across the board and works together as a magically cohesive unit.
KCRep says that “The Old Man and the Old Moon” is appropriate for everyone “ages 5 to 105” and the children in the audience seemed just as captivated as the adults, though the youngest viewers might have a slightly harder time staying engaged throughout. The runtime is listed as 90 minutes but at least on opening night (even pre-and-post-show speeches excluded), it edged closer to two hours. The pacing of the show is also a bit of a struggle. The Old Man’s adventures stack one on top of another in something akin to a “One Thousand and One Nights” structure, but the stories’ wildly differing lengths make the whole thing feel far too front-loaded, and some of the later stories feel unnecessary to the overall journey. Admittedly, these are relatively minor quibbles in the face of such an overall delight experience. This is a rare show that is just as enjoyable for families and young children as it is for any adult.
“The Old Man and the Old Moon” runs at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre (Spencer Theatre, 4949 Cherry St) through May 22. For more information, visit kcrep.org.