“Lunar Eclipse” Reveals Hidden Dimensions of the Heart
What could be better than sitting out in a field waiting for a lunar eclipse and watching the stars? How about a matinee of a World Premiere play by a Pulitzer-winning playwright and watching the stars Karen Allen and Reed Birney? The latter is what you’ll get if you attend “Lunar Eclipse” by Donald Margulies, playing through October 24th at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre at Shakespeare & Company. They both sound like great nights, but you can skip the bug spray if you choose the theater.
The former is what husband and wife George and Em have planned for the night depicted in Margulies’s play. When the play begins, we see George seated in a lawn chair and wracked with tears. Doubled over with grief and sobs when the sound of a car pulling up and lights crossed the stage, beautifully done by Sound Designer Nathan Leigh and lighting Designer James McNamara. There are shouts back and forth, with a woman’s voice asking, “Should I leave the lights on ?!?” Under his breath, the man replies “Sort of defeats the purpose.”
We are out in a field on two lawn chairs with some picnic provisions (Old Grandad and a thermos of hot chocolate) and a couple of blankets, and a fleece just in case it gets chilly to witness a lunar eclipse. According to exploredeeply.com “the eclipse is “resetting the current emotional cycle and allowing the shadow to reveal what is hidden in our subconscious or keeping us blocked from seeing more clearly.” Margulies has structured the play into the seven stages of an eclipse plus a coda where the circular platform that the lawn chairs sit on rotates slowly and minimally, set design by John Musall.
The land is a field on George & Em’s farm, which will pass into another’s hands as their daughter lives in Denver and their son, Tim, has died. We are introduced to the primary differences between the two by their opening exchanges and they later characterize each other; him as “gruff,” her as “smiley faced.” It is their loss of Tim to a drug addiction that brings out their full-hearted vulnerabilities and anger, especially in Birney, who gains stature in his grief.
The two play off each other magnificently, directed by James Warwick. They have many exchanges that interrupt each other naturally, and they can squabble without our questioning what the pair are doing together. They are a loving couple doing the best they can with a life that has had its share of comforts and disappointments.
Karen Allen (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”) is as comfortable and winning onstage as she has been in the movies of our youth. Her smile is even more radiant and warming than it ever has been when it breaks through in this mournful tale.
Reed Birney (“The Humans,” “Chester Bailey”) carries many of the wounds of the show, from his opening moments to an inflamed tirade about the condition of the world. We sympathize and may find ourselves looking to the sky for a redeeming sign ourselves.
Margulies has crafted a low-key classic two-hander that reveals itself slowly and sums up an intimate courage in the face of discontentment and chaos. It is an evening exceedingly well spent gazing at the stars and wondering.
“Lunar Eclipse” by Donald Margulies runs through 10/22 at Shakespeare & Company. Tickets: www.shakespeare.org