Off-Broadway Review: “Sundown, Yellow Moon” at the McGinn/Cazale (WP Theater)

Off-Broadway Review: "Sundown, Yellow Moon" at the McGinn/Cazale (WP Theater) (Through Saturday April 1, 2017)
By Rachel Bonds
Music and Lyrics by The Bengsons with Additional Lyrics by Rachel Bonds
Directed by Anne Kauffman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

At sundown, when objects lose their precise “black-and-white” identity, the yellow moon begins to assume the role of providing “light.” Moonlight is far more forgiving than sunlight – it is the light of all things Eastern, leaving the bright Western light to its own devices of conditional judgement. It is the salvific murkiness of the yellow moon that draws fraternal twins Ray (Eboni Booth) and Joey (Lilli Cooper) home to visit their father Tom (Peter Friedman). This journey is chronicled – with songs by the Bergsons) in Rachel Bonds’s “Sundown, Yellow Moon” currently running at Ars Nova and WP Theater.

“Sundown, Yellow Moon” is a gentle play that explores the intricacies and the intimacies of a particular homecoming, yet allows those exigencies to counterpoint the homecomings experienced by each member of the audience. Joey wants to visit her father before she’s off to Berlin to begin her Fulbright. Ray is concerned about her father who has been recently suspended from his private school teaching position. Tom got “in a fight with the headmaster and was yelling and I guess waving his arms around and accidentally backhanded the headmaster’s wife right in the face.”

During their visit, Ray reconnects with Carver (JD Taylor), Tom’s therapist, and Joey gets entangled in a tryst with Ted Driscoll (Greg Keller) who taught at the university when she was a student. Ted is married. This small college town in Tennessee seems full of sadness and despair and the homecoming becomes an opportunity for the beginnings of healing for all involved. Music is part of that healing process as is conversation. Ray comes to terms with her relationship with her boss (who is also a woman) and Joey begins to confront her own self-destructive history. Carver faces the abuse he suffered at the hands of his priest as young boy and begins a journey of healing that will enable him to be a better healer. Ted decides not “go deeper into the woods” and is, perhaps, the only static character in the play.

The difficulty with “Sundown, Yellow Moon” comes with the playwright’s decision not to develop her characters fully. Each appears as a snapshot of himself or herself without any deep exposition. For example, when Ted asks Joey how she differs from Ray, Joey quips, “We’re quite different actually. She’s a lesbian. And I like to run.” Nice to know, I guess, but not adequate character development.

The cast members deliver authentic performances and, although their conflicts are engaging and believable, there is not enough to drive a satisfying plot. The play is a tender look at a matrix of humans struggling with the vicissitudes of being human and – in that respect – successfully captures a broad swath of pathos that lays the foundation for a catharsis. However, without that catharsis, the dramatic arc falters.

Anne Kauffman’s direction is sensitive and embraces the sensitive core of the play. Lauren Helpern’s multi-level set design and Isabella Byrd’s lighting design support the variety of settings and time periods included in the play giving the shadows and the unseen leading roles.

“Sundown, Yellow Moon” pleases the senses but leaves the audience wanting to know its characters more fully that a passing glimpse from afar.