Sundown, Yellow Moon
Peter Friedman, Lilli Cooper, and Eboni Booth star in this new play-with-music by Rachel Bonds.
Three very different people are standing on the precipice of the cliff known as life. In Rachel Bonds' Sundown, Yellow Moon, a coproduction of Ars Nova and WP Theater at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre, they must decide whether they should take the leap into their futures, or let their fears drag them down. It's a highly relatable story, though one that never stops feeling like we've seen it before.
The trio in question is made up of twentysomething twin sisters Joey (Eboni Booth) and Ray (Lilli Cooper), and their father, Tom (Peter Friedman). Joey (short for Josephine) is about to move to Berlin on a Fulbright Scholarship. Ray (full name Rayleen) is an aspiring musician who recently quit her job after beginning a romantic relationship with her much-older boss. Meanwhile, Tom has become a virtual hermit after an incident that disgraced him at the prep school where he teaches. Each one is at a crucial juncture in their lives, but what path should they take?
Directed by Anne Kauffman, one of the theater industry's most experienced suppliers of slow-burning terror, Sundown, Yellow Moon is permeated by a haunting undercurrent of existential dread as the sisters and their father attempt to make the way through their individual crossroads. Is the counseling that Tom receives from Carver (J.D. Taylor) really helping? Would a flirtation with a local poet (Greg Keller) be able to keep Joey in the United States? And why is Ray, who has written so many beautiful songs in the past, unable to come up with one now?
These questions are very specific to the texture of the piece, and yet they also have a distinctly familiar feel to them. This dichotomy also signals one of the work's crucial problems: Bonds knows her characters inside and out, but so do we. This coming-of-age story never really enlightens the audience with new insight. Similarly, the tinge of anxiety throughout, supplied by Kauffman's menacing staging and the ominous lighting of Isabella Byrd and Matt Frey, are a gigantic red herring.
It's a shame, since there is so much promise in the work. Bonds has otherwise created a series of intriguingly flawed characters, played with nuance by the seven-member company. Booth and Cooper are fully believable as a pair of fraternal twins whose differences are much deeper than they way they look, while Keller and Taylor bring believable awkwardness and sadness to their roles. The cast is completed by Anne L. Nathan and Michael Pemberton, who share a single scene and never reappear.
But the show really belongs to Friedman, who delivers one of those great performances you're likely to see at a theater that's off the beaten path. Like Lauren Helpern's tree house set, his performance is so fully lived-in, so real, that it's almost like we're not even watching an actor. Friedman's astonishing slow burn is the almost irrevocably broken heart of the entire piece, and we just want to give him a bear hug.
With a soundtrack of authentic country and western tunes written by the husband-wife music duo the Bengsons (often performed on guitar by the cast), Sundown, Yellow Moon is reminiscent of those late-summer indie movies that attempt to tackle the huge heady subject of life, but there's only so much time to delve into the purpose of existence before the credits start to roll.