Matt Orme & Patrick Tovatt in Ages of the Moon. Photo-Bunbury Theatre


Ages of the Moon

Written by Sam Shepard
Directed by Steve Woodring

Review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2014 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Ages of the Moon occupies unusual territory in Sam Shepard’s body of work. Surprisingly gentle and tender-hearted for the mind who wrote Curse of the Starving Class,True West, and Buried Child, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play that received its Louisville premiere from Bunbury and director Steve Woodring less than two years ago.

Woodring is back in the director’s chair for this production of the not-yet-published play about two aging friends, Byron and Ames, spending an evening on a cabin porch in Kentucky drinking Woodford Reserve and reminiscing about old times and current states-of-mind. This is only the fourth full-stage presentation of the script, but whatever witchcraft Bunbury Producing Director Juergen Tossman conjured to secure the rights, it was worth it.

Not that it stands as Shepard’s finest. Far from it. It never develops the deep, dark currents of family dysfunctionality that characterize his strongest work, limiting itself in scope to a very personal relationship between two men with no blood ties. It might be that those humbler goals position Ages of Moon as one of his more accessible plays, and the genial, eccentric interaction between the two men easily engages the audience. If it lacks a grander ambition, it nonetheless is rich with introspection and an exploration of identity that is cast in far less epic terms than True West.

In a talk back session following the play, Patrick Tovatt, who plays Ames, suggested that Shepard is here exploring two sides of his own personality, so that the conflict and resolution on display are a reflection of the author’s own personal struggles late in life. Such a reading emphasizes the intimate and yet confounding dynamic between the two men and and how choice an opportunity it becomes for the right two actors.

In Tovatt and Matt Orme, who plays Byron, Bunbury is fortunate to have found a worthwhile pair who are more than up to the task. Tovatt is a volatile Ames, perfectly navigating the sudden emotional transitions of the character with care and feeling, while Orme confidently uses Byron’s wry sense of humor to stabilize the interaction. At least that is how the play begins. Before they are done, these two veterans manage the transference of the two personalities with such subtlety and detail as to seem entirely organic and natural. These are two of the most likable characters in Shepard’s work but Tovatt and Orme avoid pandering and cheap effect by trusting by playing these men honestly.

It is also one of Shepard’s funnier plays, and no laughs are squandered. If the more sombre moments of the play seem to not move us as much as the humor, I think it is because the playwright is characteristically judicious in avoiding sentimentality and allows it here in such careful measure. Still, it is ultimately a touching story.

The design work is striking, with a beautifully realized set by Tom Tutino and costumes by Teresa Greer. Jesse Alford’s lighting was well-judged except for one over-emphatic moment towards the end, and the sound, which had no credit in the program, also displayed inconsistency in how volume and density were overstated at a key moment. Although the moments were slightly distracting, they are but quibbles. This is a first-class production.

Ages of the Moon

February  7-23, 2014

Bunbury Theater at
The Henry Clay Theatre
604 South 3rd St.
Louisville, KY 40202
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