It has been said that the modern definition of sanity is the ability to integrate your own insanity into the insanity that is the world. This suggestion may go a long way in helping one to understand the play Many Moons, by British playwright Alice Birch. The work, written in 2011 and staged in London, is now making its American premiere as staged by Common Wealth Endeavors, a theatre company whose own premiere was earlier this year. The work is being performed at the Common Ground Theatre in Durham.
Many Moons is a play that presents four characters in what might be called “A Day in the Life.” Each character speaks to us and relates what happens to each on a bright summer’s day, Saturday, July 18. The work is set in Stoke Newington, a London parish whose name means “new town in the wood.” Included in the program is a map of the area, which is centered around the Abney Park Trust Cemetery. This Victorian cemetery has become a nature preserve within London, and the map gives us a solid locale for the play in real time.
Birch’s four characters speak, for the most part, only to us. When they do speak to each other, at a fair taking place in Stoke Newington, it is stilted and surreal. Each of these characters is speaking to us in a real need to be understood. Ollie (G. Scott Heath) is a college-age young man who left Oxford before completing his studies. He is obsessed with stars and stargazing, and speaks to us of black holes and galaxy dynamics. But his interaction with people is difficult, and he eschews relationships, despite the fact that he is, in his own words, looking for love. Juniper (Mary Guthrie) is a neighbor of Ollie, whose birthday is today. Juniper is a young woman who smiles a lot, has lots of friends on Facebook, and believes in Jesus and unicorns. She has planned a party for later today, where there will be lots of people and lots of drinking. She intends to invite Ollie, who is new to the area and whom she has seen round about. Robert (David Sweeney) is a man who lives with his wife of many years, June, who is now infirm and in need of a nurse’s care. The nurse, Holly, does not like Robert. Today Robert has to do something he does not want to do: attend his weekly support circle. And finally, Meg (J Evarts) is a woman who has a family — a husband and daughter — but still, despite being pregnant with another child, cannot feel love. She feels her heart beats about four times a minute.
These four characters each leave the comforts of home to join in the festivities of a local fair. It is during this fair that they meet and interact, if only briefly. But despite their inadequate abilities to relate to each other, they are each of them headed toward a moment that may serve to unhinge them all. Each of them describes seeing a young girl in the park, a pretty blonde child with ribbons in her hair and red balloons. As the play hurtles toward its end, this child becomes the center of the quartet’s — and the play’s — attention.
Gregor McElvogue, founder of Common Wealth Endeavors, has directed Many Moons as a character study, peeling back the layers of each character until we believe we understand what drives them. Evarts played Meg as a woman who is lifeless, who goes through the motions. She does things by halves, and wonders whether she will ever know love. As a counterpoint, Guthrie’s Juniper was free-spirited and open to love, with a tendency to smile freely. She was easy to relate to, unlike the other three, each of whom suffers a loss of something. Sweeney as Robert was in pain, a man who continuously tells his wife he loves her, but who never hears those words in response. And Heath as Ollie was a lonely, young man who has never known love and knows not how to go about finding it. As these four characters carom off of each other, we come to know their pain, and their plight. Each one is as a moon, circling life, viewing it, but doomed never to join in it. And as they travel their pre-ordained paths, they hurtle towards that one minute that will change everything for them, forever.
Many Moons continues through Saturday, November 16. For details on this production, please view the sidebar.