I find very few playwrights as compelling or bracing as Sam Shepard. A few years ago I left an excellent production of A Lie of the Mind (at Second Thought Theatre) feeling jolted and despondent. Ages of the Moon is very different. It’s roughly a third of the length of his recent work, without nearly as much turmoil or violence. No prolonged monologues or glaringly grotesque imagery. Everything I’d come to expect from Shepard was either missing or muted. The difficult road to tranquility between men has informed numerous plays of his. True West comes immediately to mind. Shepard’s guys have a lot of animosity to work through, but I always sensed that beneath the anger was a seething need to connect. Somehow. Much to my surprise, Ages of the Moon stumbles its way towards a kind of tenderness between two old friends.
Ames (Bruce DuBose) is distraught because his longtime girlfriend has left him, after finding another woman’s name and number written on a roadmap. Overcome with sorrow he invites Byron (Mark Fickert) to come visit him, in a comfortable, ramshackle cabin far beyond the intrusive lights of city dwellings. It’s a long trek for Byron (or anyone) and we can understand how the isolation could be either comforting or disquieting. Ages opens on the two old friends sipping whiskey early in the morning on Ames’ front porch. He has taken to studying the sky and anticipates a lunar eclipse around three in the morning. Intriguing as this sounds, Byron isn’t sure it’s rare enough to warrant such vigilance. As they converse, Ames gets more and more testy, eventually erupting and banishing poor Byron in a fit of rage. Twice. It comes to blows, though (ironically) when Byron’s life is jeopardized, Ames suddenly realizes just how much he actually cares for his buddy. A lot of their exchanges might be compared to the satirical “I remember it well,” duet from Gigi.
I think Shepard might have spent a little more time establishing the substance of their bond, but there’s something genuinely charming and touching about Ages of the Moon. And much that is unexpected. I think it’s more impressive in light of the hetero-warrior energy spilling in the way that Shepard’s so fond of. So many straight men are told there’s no good reason to create something healing with another guy. It’s hilarious listening to Ames explain his lack of enthusiasm for a mediocre blow job or enact his revenge on a finicky ceiling fan. I not sure Shepard attains the poetic promise of the title, but any play that features two straight men being gentle with each other is noteworthy, and Shepard completely earns that.
Undermain Theatre Presents Sam Shepard’s Ages of the Moon, playing October 15th -November 12th, 2011. 3200 Main Street, Dallas, Texas 75226. 214-747-5515 www.undermain.org