• (from left) Ben Ferguson, Ryan Melia, Matt Nuernberger, Curtis Gillen and Dan Weschler. Photo by Jim Cox.

The Old Man and the Old Moon

A study in controlled, purposeful mayhem.

By Pigpen Theatre Co.
Directed by Stuart Carden and Pigpen Theatre Co.
Old Globe San Diego
May 13 to June 18, 2017
Old Globe website
Pigpen Theatre Co. link

Have you ever had a tune in your head you just can’t identify? That’s the starting point for the Pigpen Theater Company’s raucous and endearing production of “The Old Man and the Old Moon,” a study in controlled, purposeful mayhem.

Set on some nominally British landmass, and the ocean surrounding it, the fable begins with the Old Man refilling a leaky moon. His wife, the Old Woman, has a song in her head. It’s an old song, and she can’t put her finger on when or where she heard it, but they both remark at how lovely it is. And then, as if captured by the music, she gets in a boat and sails west. Naturally, the old man pursues. Complications ensue.

One of the many beauties of this production is the way it embraces a certain DIY ingenuity. Need a boat? Here’s a broom and some fabric – or maybe just three guys holding hands and leaning forward. Want to indicate movement? These shadow puppets will do nicely. Each device seems incidental, as if they thought it up on the fly. Let’s portray a naval battle by hand carrying cannon balls. Pigpen’s spirit of economy informs the storytelling as well – nothing is wasted.

The play’s seeming randomness belies intricate planning. It wasn’t so much written as evolved, setting up creative ways to have fun with the most threadbare tropes. The cast seems surprised by each bizarre turn. They make it look easy.

Just as a long-forgotten tune overwhelms the Old Woman, music consumes this show: piano, banjo, guitar, accordion, liquor bottles half-filled with water. It’s the emotional underpinning that informs everything else. Beyond that, the set is perfectly evocative: a dock, a bar, a house, a ship. The cast prances about merrily, using up the entire space.

The Pigpen Theatre Company (Alex Falberg, Ben Ferguson, Curtis Gillen, Ryan Melia, Matt Nuernberger, Arya Shahi and Dan Wechsler) is an ensemble in the truest sense of the word, and it would be just plain wrong to call out any particular member. The group has been together since 2007, and you can imagine them completing each other’s sentences (or chortling over a buddy’s missed line). The show is so joyous, it’s like they’re having the cast party onstage.

This happy approach infuses the storytelling, which is light and airy – and certainly family friendly – but betrays profound, deeper meaning. It wouldn’t be fair to tell you what that is, and I don’t actually know just yet, but it’s tickling the back of my brain, and I’m sure it will escape sooner or later.

San Diego ,
Josh Baxt has an MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University and writes for a local nonprofit. His play, Like a War, was produced for the annual Fritz litz. Josh's short fiction has been published in the anthologies Sunshine Noir and Hunger and Thirst, as well as the journal City Works.