REVIEW: Moon Man Walk with Orbiter 3

In a town that talks a lot about new works, Orbiter 3 achieves some of the best artistic quality in their inaugural production.

Lindsay Smiling and Jaylene Clark Owens in "Moon Man Walk."

Lindsay Smiling and Jaylene Clark Owens in “Moon Man Walk.”

There’s a line from the documentary Grey Gardens that was stuck in my head throughout the entire performance of James Ijames’s Moon Man Walk, which opened last week at the Prince Theatre: “It’s very difficult to keep the line between the past and present, you know what I mean? It’s awfully difficult.” Indeed, Ijames and the stellar ensemble cast involved with this new production demonstrated just how hard it can be for humans to overcome the harsh truth of living in the present moment.

The play is the inaugural production of Philly’s new playwrights’ collective Orbiter 3, and, amongst other things, one of the cohort’s founding principals is to produce theater that is “sustainable.” Moon follows this initiative rather nicely: There’s a unfurnished thrust stage, painted marble gray, with minimal props (in fact, the half dozen or so items are painted the same gray color as the stage). The costumes are simple, and there’s no paper program. Rather, the audience is directed to the Orbiter 3 webpage for details on the actors and production. This may seem, well, utterly minimalistic, but it all works. I’ve seen one too many awful, cheap-looking shows in itty bitty black box spaces with a “minimal” set. I’m sure you have, too, but remove them from your mind: Orbiter 3 is as far away from those horror experiences as possible.

The play, in its simplest form, is about Monarch, a man struggling with the death of his beloved mother and his challenges of confronting the truth about his past. Part of that past involves a hyper-romanticized fairytale about his father, a man he never met, and the moon. Nothing really appears to be what it is in the play, and that pull between fantasy, fiction, and the raw present is a theme that is beautifully sewn throughout the narrative.

The cast (Lindsay Smiling, Aime Donna Kelly, Jaylene Clark Owens, and Carlo Campbell) is just spectacular and presented some of the best ensemble acting that I’ve seen in the city in recent memory. Edward Sobel’s direction was laser sharp and did justice to the gorgeous script.

In short, there’s a lot of talk about “new work” in theater and opera in this town, but Moon Man Walk provides the kind of artistic quality that the Philadelphia arts community needs to not only achieve with new works but invest in. Orbiter 3’s first production proves that they have a concept and brand that are not only extremely enticing, but extremely effective. One can’t be anything but excited for the future of this company.

Moon Man Walk runs at the Prince Theatre through July 19th. For tickets and more information, click here.