An early success of playwright Sam Shepard’s was his dark 1980 comedy, True West. Now the Undermain Theatre is presenting the Southwest premiere of Shepard’s latest, Ages of the Moon. In his review, KERA’s Jerome Weeks says it’s as if True West’s characters grew old – but never grew up.
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The two old coots in Ages of the Moon have been compared to the tramp characters in Samuel Beckett’s great comedies. They yep and nope and gripe at each other as they face death and decline. But Shepard himself has explored this kind of combative-machismo, stage minimalism before. In True West, they were two brothers struggling with each other, Jacob-and-Esau-ing over a screenplay, over their history together and their places in life. Here, they’re two old buddies in a fishing cabin, quarreling over memories, women and death. Ames is nursing his wounds in his man-cave cabin, having got dumped by his wife after she found evidence of a fling of his. In this dark night of a guilty soul, Ames has called up his old pal Byron for moral support, though the two haven’t seen each other much lately.
Fickert: “Long story short, you got yourself in big doggy doo-doo, Mr. Frisky.”
DuBose: “I don’t know where it came from, I swear.”
DuBose: “The note.”
Fickert: “Came out of nowhere, huh? Bet that went over big.”
DuBose: “Never saw her write it.”
Fickert: “Too busy with your zipper?”
DuBose: “She wrote it on the border of my fishing map when I wasn’t looking, can you believe it?”
What you might expect is what happens: a comic wallow of regrets and resentments. Bourbon is consumed, accusations are hurled and a ceiling fan gets violently repaired. You may recall that in True West, it was toasters and typewriters that were assaulted. Shepard’s animosity against appliances has clearly escalated. Ultimately, though, Ages is an amber-mellow comedy, tinged with whiskey-humor and a touching forgiveness for its older but no wiser fools.
Still, this is Grade B Shepard. Ages is more conventional in its language and characters than works like True West or Buried Child. Thankfully, it’s much more focused and effective than such rambling, recent efforts as Simpatico. But the fact is, we mostly know what’s coming, and comfortable predictability was never the stock-in-trade of early Shepard.
Regardless, Katherine Owens has directed a near-perfect production of Ages at the Undermain — thoroughly enjoyable, handsomely done. Designer John Arnone continues to upgrade the Undermain’s production values with a richly detailed, funky-rustic set (that ceiling fan, by the way, is from the original Dublin and New York productions — a terrific prop).
As Ames, Bruce DuBose is excellent — with Endgame and Port Twilight and now this, it’s as if he’s been making test-runs at that crown of old-coot-dom, King Lear. But it’s DuBose’s sparring partner, Mark Fickert, with his walrus mustache and lizard eyes who’s the natural here. One wonders if, as an adolescent, Fickert already seemed perfect for grizzled codgers like Byron. He has a comic deadpan as old and dry as the moon.
You may find yourself howling at it.