Review: Short Reviews of Short Plays - The Pull of the Moon

Thomas Burns Scully

  • OnStage New York Critic

So, occasionally I get asked to come along to short play festivals and other similar events to review plays that are thirty minutes or less. Now, I have no qualms about doing this as a reviewer, every bit of drama deserves a fair crack of the critical whip. However, as there is just less to say about short plays and monologue nights (and so on) because, well, they’re short, I’m trying out a new format. I’m calling it ‘Short Reviews of Short Plays’ or SRSP. We’ll see if the acronym sticks. Essentially it’s a cliff notes version of my normal reviewing style. And I can’t think of a better short play to start out on than ‘The Pull of the Moon’. Let’s begin the experiment.

Title: ‘The Pull of the Moon’

Writer: Paige Zubel

Director: Sophia Grasso and Jon Steiger

Produced by: Midtown International Theatre Festival

Venue: Jewel Box Theatre

Cast: Jenny Boot, Montgomery Mauro, and Ned Brennan

Themes: Cyclicality of pain, relationships, sexual abuse survivors, tides and waves

Plot Summary: A young professor type gives a play-by-play description of the formation of a wave and its journey. This is juxtaposed with a young couple discussing the deterioration of their relationship in the wake of the girlfriend’s acquaintance rape. The boyfriend tries to be understanding and loving, but he and his girlfriend just can’t get back to who they were as a couple due the the girlfriend’s enduring psychological trauma. Tempers rise and come to a head as the professor’s description of the breaking of destructive wave reaches its climax.

Thoughts on Performances: The cast are generally strong. Jenny Boot in particular (also reviewed recently in ‘A Man Like You’) seems to be a bottomless well of emotion, and captures depression with scary accuracy. Ned Brennan is suitably understanding as the boyfriend character. Montgomery Mauro fills his role of collegiate professor well, but this isn’t a showcase piece for him. There just isn’t that much for him to do other than give a convincing Ted Talk on waves. Which he does very nicely.

Thoughts on Writing: Interesting. Comes down firmly on the politically correct side of the sexual abuse issue and attempts to throw light on new aspects of it. Admirable in its goals, and it certainly meets them, but it plays the ‘elephant in room’ angle for far too long. Audiences are smart and worked out what was not being talked about pretty much from the get-go. The reveal of sexual abuse at the end, then, comes as no shock and feels like it limited the play’s comment and conversation rather than advancing it. That said, it still presents an interesting descent from melancholy to actual full-blown depression. 

Miscellaneous Thoughts: The wave metaphor is haunting, in a larger production it would be interesting to integrate a visual element to back it up. But alas, production design always suffers in short play festivals.

Final Thoughts: The play is thoughtful, but limited by over-reliance on a tired storytelling device. A strong cast and good direction guide it to a place where its festival-worthy. It would be nice to see it staged with a stronger visual element to underpin its central wave metaphor.

One Sentence Review: It pulled me in.

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This review was written by Thomas Burns Scully, a New York based writer, actor and musician. His work has been lauded by TimeOut NY, the New York Times, BAFTA US, the Abbey Theatre Dublin and other smaller organizations too numerous to mention. His theatrical writing has been performed on three continents. He performs improv comedy professionally and plays lead guitar in two bands. He is generally considered to be the thrifty person’s Renaissance man. 

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