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And Underneath The Moon

Local playwright impresses with her theatrical debut

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Alix Fenhagen (right) snuggles with Andrew Porter.

And Underneath The Moon

By Sarah Ford Gorman

At Load of Fun Through Dec. 18

The front row of chairs for Glass Mind Theatre’s current production And Underneath the Moon sits right on the black floor that makes up the stage at Load of Fun Theater. The chairs imply an intimacy that marks the entire evening, which turns out to be an emotionally packed, quick hour and an intense theater experience.

Moon is Glass Mind Associate Artistic Director Sarah Ford Gorman’s debut as a playwright, and it’s a powerful one. The tiny, unchanging set is a freshly painted nursery, with stuffed animals in a crib, a rocking chair, and a bookshelf. Echoing what seems to be a trend in local amateur theater, a projection screen features a drawing of a window, a baby nestled in the curve of a white moon outside. The nursery belongs to Olivia (Alix Fenhagen) and Joshua (Andrew J. Porter), a young married couple seeking to conceive. Olivia is lovingly rearranging stuffed animals when Joshua rushes in, breathless, as his wife shows him a pregnancy test. It’s positive.

But, as one might imagine, all is not as happy as it seems. Joshua’s brother Max (Gregory Jericho) is a doctor, and after a test, he informs Olivia—only Olivia—that it was a false positive. Skip ahead a few weeks, and Olivia is still planning for her baby; she’s seen another doctor, gotten a blood test, and turns out to be pregnant after all.

Olivia, Joshua, Max, and Max’s wife Emily (Caroline C. Kiebach), a wonderfully chirpy tornado of a woman, happily begin preparations for the new baby, Joshua doting on his young wife with the near-sickening sweetness of a newlywed. But through phone calls with Olivia’s parents, dark graphic-novel-like illustrations projected between scenes, and furtive conversations between Max and Joshua, a storm of unpleasantness begins to brew around the couple. Olivia’s mother has been in what sounds like a psych ward for an extended period, and her health is failing. Joshua is regularly referred to as “fragile” in talks between Max and Olivia, an allusion to struggles he had years ago. And through it all swirls Emily, a peppy but surprisingly smart force of nature who does her best to keep everyone cheery and together.

The best part of Moon is Gorman’s writing. She clearly understands good storytelling, and lets her characters’ histories and secrets reveal themselves through subtle actions and words. Never does a line feel forced, a fatal flaw of many new storytellers who don’t possess the restraint to let characters speak naturally. We get to know the characters much as we would new friends, the relationships developing over time, details emerging that make them deeper and more three-dimensional as the show progresses.

A nod is also due to Jessica Ruth Baker’s costume design, which employs a similar subtlety. Joshua wears blue jeans, plain T-shirts, and Chucks, a hint toward the immaturity that eventually comes to bear. Max, conversely, presents himself as the well-off doctor, donning black turtlenecks, his wife in heels and patterned dresses. And Olivia’s comfy and simple wardrobe slowly starts to submit to entropy, much like Olivia herself.

As the action progresses and no baby bump appears, a dread begins to brew that perhaps Olivia is keeping the worst secret of all. The severity of her mother’s illness is slowly revealed, and you begin to wonder if her condition might be genetic. Fenhagen handles Olivia’s exasperation well, mussing her hair and nesting in a way that starts to feel obsessive. She keeps in touch with her parents by cell phone, an action that could read as tacky onstage, but Fenhagen makes it natural, with a pacing that feels as though there’s a real voice on the other end of the phone.

Perhaps the biggest flaw in the production is the execution of the multimedia. Elements of the past are revealed through Justin Johnson’s dark illustrations and Britt Olsen-Ecker’s staged photographs, like one of Olivia and Josh at their wedding—a clever and thoughtful move. But the transitions between live action and virtual set are rough, an admittedly minor quibble but one that nonetheless interrupts the pace of the play, making changes feel abrupt and jerking audiences in and out of past reveries and present action. But what’s happening onstage is so convincing, the writing so sharp, that within seconds you’re settled right back into your place as voyeur to this complex family, and when the secrets finally come to a head, it’s as devastating as if it had happened to a friend.

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