Tirzah (left) and MG Green in "Man and Moon." Photo by Daren Scott
It’s tempting when there seems to be no answers to the daunting questions that infiltrate our lives, to surrender to the ambiguity of “I don’t know.” Or, when the questions stem from sickness, hardship or tragedy, to search for someone or something to blame. For the fortunate, however, comfort or perspective -- or both -- reside in the heavens, in all their wonder and mystery.
That’s where 12-year-old Luna (Tirzah) turns in Siena Marilyn Ledger’s “Man and Moon,” onstage at Moxie Theatre with Desiree Clarke Miller directing. Luna is a preteen astronomy whiz. In the oncology unit of a sterile hospital somewhere she immerses herself in a textbook on the subject while her cancer-ridden mother lies in a bed beyond the walls of the grim waiting room.
Luna isn’t alone for long. The transitioning Aaron (MG Green) arrives and takes a seat. They are there for breast-cancer treatment. What begins with stilted conversation, at least on Aaron’s part, very soon morphs into a friendship that deepens affectingly over the course of an hour and a half’s stage time.
Luna and Aaron, who’s 28, have more in common than the realities of the oncology unit: Each is dealing with significant changes in their bodies. They may be brought together by circumstance, but they come together through a mutual desire to survive and to become the selves they long to be.
Impassioned and intelligent as Miller’s script is, it indulges the space-and-heavenly-bodies metaphor almost to the point of obvious, and Luna is presented as so precocious and intellectually prodigious beyond her years that it does strain believability. Tirzah must have two or even three times the lines that Green has, and there are moments in “Man and Moon” when you wish she’d just chill and keep her head buried in that astronomy book.
Green’s performance is touching and restrained and, when called for, terrifying. They convey without working at it the numb fear of one looking down the barrel of mortality while at the same time determined to embrace an identity and a new life, no matter what.
The emotional atmosphere of “Man and Moon” is greatly enhanced by the shifting and evocative lighting by Annelise Salazar. Elisa Vedar’s sound design never intrudes; rather, it matches the characters’ highs, lows, distances and intimacies. Musically, while The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” and Radiohead’s “Black Star” might seem conspicuous choices, they’re welcome soundscapes.
Two … maybe three times the play feels like it’s about to end, then it doesn’t. When it does, with Aaron and Luna gazing skyward in the beautifully lit theater, there’s a sense that some things are unanswerable but that the trying is always easier when one is not alone.
“Man and Moon” runs through Dec. 3 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.