Change and the ways that challenge and loss inextricably link us together are at the heart of Moxie’s Man and Moon, running through December 3.
Written by Siena Marilyn Ledger, the show takes place in a breast cancer treatment center waiting room, where 12-year-old Luna awaits her mother’s treatment and 28-year-old Aaron grapples with his own mortality. Luna has spent the vast majority of her young life in this waiting room, practicing her school projects, reading her mom’s old astronomy textbook, and eating fruit snacks by the boxful. She is obsessed with space and the wonder of Earth’s place within it and eagerly awaits a comet which is due to carve its way through the sky on her upcoming thirteenth birthday. Aaron, a newcomer to the waiting room, is of great interest to Luna, rocking blue hair, piercings, tattoos, and a pair of Airpods. A transitioning man, Aaron is fighting his breast cancer alone, traversing not only the physical side effects of the treatment, but also shades of disconnectedness and dysphoria. As the two get to know each other, they learn just how much they have in common and just where their fears overlap.
Starring as Luna is vivacious 17-year-old Tirzah, who was recognized as the Broadway San Diego Awards Best Actress earlier this year. Though playing a much younger role, Tirzah maintains a solid handle on the precocious and matter-of-fact mannerisms that young Luna embodies, and does a spot-on job with handling the character’s series of extreme mood swings. After all, “No one is gonna tell you no,” she declares, “when your mom has cancer.”
Opposite Tirzah, MG Green plays Aaron in their San Diego performance debut. Green has a tremendous responsibility to navigate the emotional, physical, and relational turmoil of fighting aggressive breast cancer among other internal battles onstage, all the while – against his will – befriending an impertinent pre-teen. That said, Green is clearly up to the challenge of tackling all of the nuances of this unique role, and it is heartwarming to see them take on a gentle caretaker role with their new young friend. This lens on the story is one that touched me deeply; in Green’s hands, Aaron as a caring, courteous young person who, despite struggling with the world’s many challenges, has a lot of humanity to share.
As is likely evident, this production, directed by Desireé Clarke Miller, tackles several serious issues related to gender, breast cancer, and loss, and it doesn’t shy away from engaging in them. One exceptionally acted scene includes a touching big/little sibling moment when Aaron explains to distraught Luna how to use a tampon, while another features Luna fervently raging at Aaron that “everything is dying” and that giving up is a cop out. Yet in spite of their differences, the two young people find themselves becoming closer and closer friends as they realize how much they may truly have in common.
Man and Moon‘s oncology unit, created by scenic designer Yi-Chien Lee, is sterile and flexibly used, thanks to a set of matched chairs which are moved periodically throughout the play. End tables featuring blocks, astronaut figures, books, and magazines are placed strategically around the room along with a couple of trash cans and plastic potted plants. This space, while spare, is brought to life through Eliza Vedar’s sound design, unique in its careful development of a soundscape which includes not only scene change tunes, but also guitar string noises, the hum of fluorescent lights, and the low echoing of bass in each character’s headphones. Costumes by Claire Peterson capture the age, style, and personality of the two actors, and lighting and props by Annelise Salazar and Rai Feltmann both advance the plot and call attention to key moments.
While Man and Moon was polished in its opening night performance with both actors comfortable with the roles and their places within the story, I am curious about how their interactions will evolve over the run of the production. Generally speaking, I found the energy to be quite high throughout the show and would have liked to have seen a little more gravitas and/or room to breathe in some earlier interactions (to balance out that accurately portrayed pre-teen energy); I felt that if some additional levels were built into the initial and ongoing exposition scenes, the climax might be more impactful to audiences. Furthermore, there are a lot of metaphors built into this script – playwright Ledger has taken her time with turn of phrase – if the playwright and director duo gave them more time to sink in, it might lengthen the production beyond its 80 minute length, but it is possible that having fewer scenes and more time spent within them might facilitate an even deeper connection with these powerful characters.
“You never change; you only expand. All of you is still you,” says Luna at one point in the show, reflecting on the state of the universe and the ways in which our lives are both current and immemorial. Coming from a character obsessed with unprovable theories involving space and time, the idea is symbolic and sentimental, but moving nonetheless. These words mean one thing for Luna and something else entirely for Aaron. Both of them are completely valid, and I saw many damp eyes leaving the theatre.
Man and Moon runs through December 3 at Moxie Theatre.