Unconventional props, shadow puppets, and folksy original songs fuel PigPen Theatre Co.'s marvelously realized The Old Man and The Old Moon, at The Gym at Judson. This new play with music is a triumph in collaborative storytelling from a seven-man company of recent Carnegie Mellon grads who share their imagination and enthusiasm through this charming fable.
The tale they tell is of an Old Man (Ryan Melia) whose daily job it is to gather up the light that has spilled from the moon, climb a ladder, and pour it back in. He's been doing it for so long that he can't remember a time when it wasn't his responsibility. Indeed, he and his wife (played by Alex Falberg with just a suggestion of cross-dressing) can't even remember how they met one another, or even their own names!
The Old Man's wife hears an achingly familiar melody on the wind, and sets off to find out what it is. The Old Man hears it, too, but he would rather stick with his familiar routine – until he discovers his wife has gone off without him and he abandons his duty to the Moon to pursue her.
The remainder of the play chronicles the adventures he has during his long journey, which include a naval battle, a search for an island paradise, a stint inside the belly of a large fish, a ride in an air balloon – and the catastrophic consequences of his neglect of the Moon.
Most of the actors take on multiple parts throughout the play, with standout turns including Curtis Gillen's portrayal of the eager and open-faced seaman Llewellyn, Ben Ferguson's comic antics as needy ghost Gabriel, and Matt Nuernberger's charismatic role as the play's primary narrator.
Each member of the company – which also includes Arya Shahi and Dan Weschler – can play one or more musical instruments, and they sing their songs unamplified. While this means a lyric or two might get lost along the way, it's worth it to hear their gorgeous choral blend, particularly in the performers' late-in-the-play rendition of the show's best song, "Bremen."
Designers Lydia Fine and Bart Cortright support the work of the ensemble, with set pieces and lighting effects that have a low-tech, but expertly crafted feel. And the puppets, by Fine and PigPen, are one of the most distinctive visual motifs within this highly enjoyable production.