With director Angelisa Gillyard’s production of “Moon Man Walk,” Constellation Theatre Company continues its tradition of exceptionally staged, visually rich performances — this time, rising above the text itself.
Jonathan Del Palmer is the play’s central figure as Spencer, a shy and reserved aspiring writer whose social awkwardness papers over an emotional core of deep passion and confusion. While the story ostensibly deals with Spencer’s search for details about his absent father, much of the action shows Spencer as a young boy interacting with his devoted but put-upon mother Esther — a highly intelligent woman who has seen many of her own dreams dissipate.
…Constellation Theatre Company continues its tradition of exceptionally staged, visually rich performances…
Palmer, and Renee Elizabeth Wilson as Esther, capture their dynamic effectively. There is great tension, but also great love, visible in their scenes, and Wilson’s Esther is often nearly boiling over as she strives to keep her stark emotions in check. Both actors show how much can be done by stepping right to the edge of emotional explosion, without crossing over.
At the other end of the emotional spectrum is Petrushka, who cheerfully barges into Spencer’s life after an encounter on an airplane, and steers him through several rocky days. Petrushka says and does whatever she feels at every moment, and Jasmine Joy Brooks vibrantly and hilariously embodies this unchecked whirlwind of a character.
Patrick M. Doneghy is the mysterious missing father, appearing first as a fantasy figure in space, and later as a man whose life is entirely and painfully bound to this earth. Doneghy’s great range is on display as he also takes on several comic characters who make brief appearances.
All of this is cast against a simple set and sumptuous lighting by A.J. Guban, a veteran at making the Source Theatre black box into Constellation’s trademark colorful visions. Projections transform the entire scene from the desolation of the lunar surface to a sickly sweet pink flower shop, and several other distinct locales.
Everything Gillyard’s team, both on stage and off, is of the high quality one expects from Constellation. The script by James Ijames, however, is somewhat uneven. While some scenes flow easily from drama to humor, others have abrupt shifts in tone. The playwright’s intentions are not always clear — is this a story about a mother and son? A boy who lost his father? It can be both, of course, but the through-line is vague.
The character of Petrushka is also frustrating. She’s a near-Manic Pixie Dream Girl, who exists solely in terms of her relationship with Spencer. She meets him on a plane and immediately attaches herself to him — but we never learn exactly why she is so interested in him, or even where she was going in the first place. We find out nothing about her at all, except that she’s into Nirvana. The character is so much a projection of Spencer’s gaze that I thought she might turn out to be in his head. (This is all the more reason why Brooks is a standout of the production — she overcomes these deficiencies in the part she is tasked with playing.)
While the play itself is uneven, it is a joy to see Constellation back in action, with real people in the house. While “Moon Man Walk” will run in streaming format through mid-September, the limited in-person run is worth the trip.
Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.
“Moon Man Walk” runs through August 22, 2021, in person at Source Theatre, 1835 14th Street NW in Washington, and through September 12, 2021, in streaming format. Click here for tickets and information. NOTE: All patrons must wear masks + show proof of vaccination in order to attend a performance.