A gay couple still dealing with the sudden crib death of their adopted child decide a year later to become parents again—this time through surrogacy. Could there be a more current, hot-button topic for a world premiere play?
If only Christina Cigala’s Pack Up The Moon lived up to that promise.
My expectations going into the Lounge Theatre were high. About Brimmer Street Theatre Company’s most recent world premiere, I’d written, “All Your Hard Work is a textbook example of the talent and (dare I say?) All The Hard Work that goes into making the Los Angeles stage scene the exciting, vital, unique entity that it is.” I didn’t miss a single episode of TV’s gay surrogacy sitcom The New Normal and loved Michael Lowenthal’s recent novel The Paternity Test, which deals with the risks and rewards of surrogacy in a way that I hoped Pack Up The Moon would as well. And its director, Amy K. Harmon, had given a stellar performance in All Your Hard Work, scoring an Outstanding Duo Performance Scenie with costar Michael Grant Terry.
Playwright Cigala has all the right elements in place, starting with Pack Up The Moon’s 30something couple, cable TV executive Andre (David Jette) and his stay-at-home-dad husband Carter (Brad Harris), whose cousin T-Anne (Emilia Richeson) arrives at precisely the right moment to plant the seed of surrogacy in Andre and Carter’s heads. Not only is T-Anne willing and able, but with Andre’s sperm and T-Anne’s egg, their future son or daughter could be the next best thing to a biological child.
Despite this promise, Cigala’s dramedy gets off to an iffy start, with Carter spouting psychobabble to hubby Andre (“I love you too but I am trying to reach my higher self”), all the while holing himself up in baby Graham’s now empty nursery, whiling away the hours building popsicle-stick houses and reading pop-psychy Internet blogs.
Still, Carter’s grief is palpable, and Harris (in the evening’s strongest performance) is heartbreakingly authentic in his bereavement.
A self-described “fucking mess” with a squeaky, squealy voice that could shatter glass (and that Richeson could tone down), T-Anne has some “big life problems” of her own, hence her need to crash for the night, if not longer.
Despite his hurt at T-Anne’s not having attended Graham’s funeral, Carter soon finds his cousin’s presence precisely the right medicine to help him begin coming out of his year-long cocoon and finally take the “big step” of going out onto the porch.
As further proof of his recovery, Carter begins to consider the possibility of a second child, this time through surrogacy, and with T-Anne close at hand and money no object given Andre’s job, the couple offer her $25,000 to bear their child.
By intermission, Pack Up The Moon appears, despite an occasional misstep, on its way towards being a thoughtful, compelling look at how T-Anne’s pregnancy will affect Andre and Carter’s shaky relationship, Carter’s aching need to be a parent again, and T-Anne’s own sense of self-worth.
Unfortunately, playwright Cigala has other plans for her trio of leads, and Pack Up The Moon falls apart post intermission.
Part of the problem is a matter of focus. Act One’s introduction of a fourth character, midwife/counselor Jaime (Ben Fuller), would make sense were the hippy-dippy gent kept a minor character. Instead, he is elevated to a starring role, beginning with a cloyingly new-agey Act Two opening sequence that goes on way too long and a later scene between Jaime and T-Anne that keeps our lead couple offstage when they ought to be front and center. A more serious misstep is Cigala’s decision to have one of the four characters turn psycho, seemingly out of nowhere.
With a tacked-on ending leaving plenty of plot holes unfilled, it’s no wonder that muted applause greeted the actors at curtain call.
Harris escapes almost unscathed, giving a lovely performance that made me care about Carter and wish that both actor and character weren’t kept offstage for far too much of Act Two. As for the remaining threesome, I have no doubt that Richeson, Jette, and Fuller are capable of topnotch work given the right script, and each has his or her excellent moments in Pack Up The Moon.
Alex Pletcher’s scenic design makes imaginative use of the Lounge Theatre’s built-in brick walls, turning the matchbox stage into a charmingly decorated nursery, giant-sized building blocks serving as various pieces of furniture. (That being said, too much time is taken up rearranging them ad infinitum for each scene change.) Haylee Freeman’s lighting design and Amy Sobott’s costumes are both excellent, with sound whiz Cricket S. Myers reigning as the evening’s design star with her trademark blend of mood-setting music and effects. Nichole Ortiz gets top marks too for her properties design.
Joseph L. Roberts is production manager, Tyler Jenich assistant director, Scott Miyako technical director, Sara Tagaloa special effects artist, Katrina Coulourides assistant lighting designer, and Heather Davis master electrician.
There is much talent onstage and behind the scenes in Pack Up The Moon. I wish it had turned out to be the play and production I was hoping for.
Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.
July 14, 2013
Photos: Michael Lamont