Who is the woman standing on the moon? Is it Belle, the character that graces the cover of the playbill? Or is the play’s protagonist, Mary La Trobe, our lunar goddess? These two woman are the heart and soul of the play, set in a small southern town, in the present, after the War on Terror had taken its toll on our country, our places of worship, and especially on our armed forces fighting in the Middle East declaratively on our behalf.
Mary (played by the fiery Christa Kimlico Jones, left), is battling her own personal war against dogma, religious or otherwise, as the director/producer of a Jesus Camp-type documentary about fundamentalist Christian zealots. Belle (in a hypnotically sweet performance by Sarah Saunders, below) is the wife of the film’s most compelling case study, Randy, a newly deployed veteran-turned-Christian soldier. She’s also a clairvoyant whose guiding light shines from within her womb, through her unborn daughter. Is Belle imagining things or seeking attention, as Mary believes? Or is she channeling the devil, as Randy claims? Only Mary’s ex-husband David is convinced of Belle’s psychic abilities (but then again, David has a thing for fortune-tellers and booze.)
Despite the lightness in tone of this review, The Woman Standing on the Moon is a very heavy piece of theater. Many, many issues are addressed in its 2-hour running time: ideas as complex as what it means not to believe in anything, how religion can be a transformative experience, despite its shortcomings, and how easily the choices made out of pain tend to linger, multiply and spiral out of bounds without notice.
The men in the play in the play reinforce this last point, especially David (James Patrick Earley, left) and Randy (Taylor Flowers, below). As they forge their way through the darkness of depression and loss, their fumbles turn electric and their shocks pulsate through everyone around them. It is these moments, when the characters are fully charged, that the real healing begins. Luckily for the viewer, there are many of them.
Playwright James Haigney’s language is fluid and poetic. The characters quote Nietzsche and Bob Dylan in the same stanza. One of the most devastating lines of the play comes from a shell-shocked veteran (Steven Michael Laing, playing double duty also as Mary’s new boyfriend, Jack) in the midst of a conversation about ice cream. “Death gets into everything,” says Sargeant Steve, invoking a visceral look into the sacrifice that soldiers make on the front line, a place where a childhood treat suddenly (and sometimes irreversibly) becomes a symbol of the macabre. Bernard Cummings’ direction is a bit heavy-handed (and it seems an odd choice to have Laing in a dual role when it would’ve been just as easy to find one more actor to complete the casting), but he allows the actors to fester in their roles and the end result is rich and meaty. The characters are fully-fleshed; they feel real and the story is well-told in their hands.