How do we navigate love? How do we process grief? How do we begin to comprehend our past when everything falls into question?
James Ijames asks these questions and more in the Chicago premiere production of his touching drama, inviting his audiences to reflect on their own personal choices and relationships as they watch the main character experience the most difficult journey of his life.
Definition Theatre Company presents Moon Man Walk
Written by James Ijames and directed by Tyla Abercrumbie, Moon Man Walk follows Monarch (Debo Balogun) as he travels back home to Philadelphia after the sudden death of his mother (Shadana Patterson). As with any story about returning home, Monarch finds himself face to face with the choices that led him to his current place. Over the course of his story, Monarch falls in love with the exciting and joyful Petrushka (Chanell Bell), battles his conflicting sentiments about a father who left him at a young age, and attempts to navigate the mourning process for a woman who meant the world to him.
While certainly a roller coast ride of a journey, Moon Man Walk also allows the audience to slowly find their connection to Monarch. James Ijames cleverly crafts an emotional and creative story that reminds all who watch that even in the darkest of moments, there can lie a little glimmer of hope.
Ijames’ script explores a theme of cycles – from the cycle of life, to the cycle of love. Helmed by Abercrumbie, the artistic team helps bring that theme to life on the stage through an abstract stage that adapts to a variety of locations and time periods.
Monarch is a librarian, and the beginning of the play discusses his love for books and stories. Scenic Designer Eleanor Kahn converts the stage into his library – with a spiral bookcase that also acts as a staircase. Playing into the theme of cycles, the spiral shape of the stage elicits a feeling of infinite length, which helps her design further transform the stage as the story goes on. As Monarch moves locations, the stage becomes more abstract, and the bookshelves become elements of his recently deceased mother’s home, or the walls of the funeral home. However, the most stunning transformation in the production is the use of the stage to represent outer space, which becomes increasingly important as the audience learns more about Monarch’s relationship with his mother.
While Monarch’s mother, Esther, dies early on in the play, the audience learns about their relationship through use of flashbacks from Monarch’s early childhood to the more present day. Patterson and Balogun create a lovely relationship, which only adds to the heartbreak of knowing that it ends sooner than anticipated.
Part of that which characterizes their mother/son relationship is Esther’s choice to tell him detailed and creative stories from early in life, and one is about his father. From a young age, Monarch believes that his father was an astronaut who became stranded on the moon, and as Monarch travels farther and farther into his past through his grief, the image of his father, Kesi (Michael Anthony Rollins), on the moon appears more frequently. The design team beautifully brings this element to life through an addition of purple lighting and projections of stars and a moon. Kahn’s library transforms into a path up to the stars, and though minimal, the ending image is stunning.
Moon Man Walk rests on an ensemble of four to carry the story, and the team certainly does not disappoint. Abercrumbie clearly worked with her cast to help them meld and develop a strong stage chemistry, allowing for an authentic story to unfold.
Rawlins and Petterson carry the challenge of playing multiple roles throughout the piece, but they do so seamlessly. Particularly as Monarch’s mother, Patterson delivers an honest performance that allows the audience to further sympathize with Monarch as he battles the loss.
Though the love story between Monarch and Petrushka comes as a bit of a surprise in terms of the script, Bell and Balogun develop a sweet stage chemistry, especially as the audience witnesses Petrushka work to help Monarch through the journey of his grief. In one particularly lovely moment, the two are in Esther’s living room listening to her old records, and Petrushka asks Monarch to dance. Though reluctant, he gives in, and the couple shares a moment of peace and fun in the midst of what appears to be the darkest time of Monarch’s life. While Balogun’s portrayal of Monarch is calm and heartbreaking, Bell’s Petrushka is lighthearted, and the two actors create the perfect compliments to each other, helping the audience root for the relationship.
Thought-provoking and beautifully staged, Moon Man Walk is a story that will stick with you for days.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Playing through February 25, 2018
Thursdays at 8:00pm
Fridays at 8:00pm
Saturdays at 8:00pm
Sundays at 2:30pm
Run Time: 85 minutes, without intermission.
Richard Christiansen Theater at Victory Gardens
2433 N. Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60614
About the Author:
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.