If Sarah Ford Gorman’s new play, And Underneath the Moon, were being workshopped by Glass Mind Theatre for production in a future season, I would say the script contains real promise. As a fully realized production now, however, the show—which runs less than an hour—is at best an incomplete experience. There simply is not enough time for Gorman, director Lynn Morton, and her cast to explore what they set out to explore.
In her program notes Morton asks, “[H]ow do you cope when things are so close to perfect that they feel like they are going to crumble any second?” Moon’s protagonists, Olivia and Josh, “struggle with being so close to their idea of being the perfect family, yet it’s not quite there.” The immediate crisis threatening their marriage is Olivia’s inability to conceive. After a pregnancy test results in a false positive, Olivia refuses to tell Josh the truth, continuing to behave as though she were pregnant until she has convinced herself she is.
Gorman compounds Olivia’s delusions by giving her an ailing mother whose impending death Olivia likewise cannot accept. The exact nature of the mother’s illness is never clarified—or if so, I missed it—and neither is her relationship, or her daughter’s, to Josh’s brother, Max. (For that matter, I wasn’t sure Max was Josh’s brother until late in the play.) Gorman hints at some shared history, some awkwardness (or worse) that has made Olivia suspicious of Max, and Max resentful of Olivia … or perhaps I misheard a line. Josh too is an invalid, or he was—“he’s fragile,” Olivia says, unaware perhaps that Josh says the same thing about her—but how any of this helps to develop the plot or deepen the relationships I cannot say.
Part of the problem is that Gorman threads much of Moon’s backstory into one-sided telephone conversations between Olivia and her parents; the static quality of these scenes does not encourage close listening. Other threads are suggested in the montages that play between scenes: Photographs of Olivia and Josh at their wedding, Max and Josh as boys (and, briefly, adults in a cemetery), and Max’s wife, Emily, holding her own baby alternate with evocative yet ultimately inscrutable illustrations (by artist Justin Johnson). Curiously, the publicity materials imply that “home movies” are used as storytelling devices, but though designer Andrew Peters has animated the images, “movies” is a stretch, and makes me wonder if Morton and Gorman had larger ambitions for this element that went unrealized.
Thus, though much seems to be happening beneath or between the play’s lines, the actual text brings little into relief. Too many scenes end in blackouts the moment a conflict arises or the tension crescendos, and despite Morton’s notes, Olivia and Josh rarely say or do anything that might establish they really are, if “not quite” perfect, at least close. They talk less of life than of outdated pop culture—references to C-3PO, The Dark Knight, and Jonathan Taylor Thomas may elicit chuckles from the audience, but they are not foundations upon which to build a marriage, and so I was largely unmoved by the cracks in this particular union.
I do not wish to seem overly negative. Moon asks a lot of interesting questions, and Morton has cast it well. Should Gorman bring a sturdier script to a second production, she could hardly find a better Olivia than Alix Fenhagen, whose soulful eyes convey depths of feeling I did not sense on the page. Fenhagen shares a nice chemistry with Andrew J. Porter, whose Josh has an appealing, boyish charm, though his energy level wavers, especially in early scenes; at times I had difficulty hearing him, and he is entirely overpowered by Gregory Jericho’s Max, though in fairness Max is clearly the stronger man. Rounding out the cast is Caroline C. Kiebach, whose Emily is a whirlwind of “real housewife” chatter until she delivers an unexpectedly poignant speech late in the play. In their brief scenes together Jericho and Kiebach find interesting layers of tension that I wish Gorman had explored further.
Michelle Datz’s set design makes effective use of the spacious Load of Fun Theater, as does Morton’s staging—from my seat in the corner I was not troubled by a single obstructed sightline, a problem I have noted in previous productions in this space. Indeed, judged solely as a production, And Underneath the Moon is a solid offering by Glass Mind Theatre. I hope that Gorman continues to work on the play itself.