WILLIAMSTOWN -- PigPen Theatre Co.'s uneven "The Old Man and the Old Moon" at Williamstown Theatre Festival's Nikos Stage draws on a host of storytelling traditions, not the least of them the tall tale.
The characters in "The Old Man and the Old Moon" delight in spinning tall tales -- exaggerated exploits of heroism, particularly centering around a sea captain of mythic proportions, one Pericles Lleweyen McWellendar, whose mysterious disappearance years before the events in "The Old Man and the Old Moon" begin has only added to the legends that have grown around him.
Set on a barn-like arrangement of rough-hewn wood platforms and steps, the ingratiating and resourceful seven actor-musician-singers of PigPenTheatre Co. spin a tale that is based on a delightful premise -- how the moon got to be the way it is.
There was a time, you see, when the moon was always full, save for a small leak. It has been the responsibility of the Old Man (an appealing sandy-haired Ryan Melia) to fill the moon up every day from a bucket of liquid light he dutifully carries up a ladder. Then, one day, the Old Man's wife (Alex Fahlberg) disappears and the Old Man sets off on a wild journey to find her. He assumes he'll be back home before the moon runs out of liquid light. But the universe has something else in mind for the Old Man. His search will take him to the end of the world through a series of misadventures, during which he is mistaken for the missing Lleweyen.
In good fable fashion, "The Old Man and the Old Moon" has things to say about life -- among other things, heroes and why we need them; stories and why we tell them.
The ingratiating members of the PigPen ensemble draw on a variety of storytelling techniques -- among them shadow puppets and lifesize hand puppets. They employ an array of found objects and a complement of musical instruments that includes piano, accordion, percussion, banjo, guitars, bottles, table tops, railings.
The production moves with machinelike efficiency. At the same time, however, "The Old Man and the Old Moon" buckles under the weight of a story that grows dense, convoluted and overburdened with narrative elements, to the point that the generally effortful show feels longer than its intermissionless 100 or so minutes.
It's not giving anything surprising away to say that the moon does regain its lost luster; so does "The Old Man and the Old Moon" -- only just.
THE OLD MAN AND THE OLD MOON. A play with music by PigPen Theatre Co. Directed by Stuart Carden and PigPenTheatre Co.; scenic & costume design, Lydia Fine; lighting designer, Bart Cortright; sound designer, Mikhail Fiksel. Through Sunday. Eves.: 7:30 Tue.-Thu.; 8 Fri., Sat. Mats.: 2 Thu., Sun.; 3:30 Sat. Williamstown Theatre Festival, Nikos Stage, ‘62 Center for Theatre and Dance, 1000 Main St. (Route 2), Williamstown. Tickets: $55. (413) 597-3400; wtfestival.org. 1 hour 43 minutes
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