- “Turning and turning in the widening gyre
- The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
- Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”
So spoke William Butler Yeats. I’m going to repurpose this poem to discuss PigPen Theatre Co’s The Old Man and the Old Moon, which closes the Old Globe season.
Did the center hold in Old Man? Kind of.
At the very top of the show we are told that the most powerful thing in the world is a memory. That, my friends, is a world class example of begging the question. There is no explanation as to why or how a memory is the most powerful thing.
The show whisks along as though this were a bit of common knowledge. In my opinion a memory being the most powerful thing is not common knowledge. If it is, I don’t remember learning it.
See what I did there?
Why take umbrage with one line at the top of the show? Because the entire show is based on it. Perhaps I am getting caught up in the rhetoric of the line, because a less sweeping assertion would have served just as well. “There are few things more powerful than a memory” would have passed by without me even noticing.
What is the context of the line? The old man’s wife leaves, because she recalls a tune and can’t quite place it. The memory of this tune, or more accurately the inability to remember the tune, compels her to travel to the end of the world. Without the “power” of this partial memory we have no show.
The Old Man, in trying to find her, finds himself within the context of the adventure. This is the hero’s second journey. He becomes his authentic self and so, in many ways, need not ever find his wife because he has found something more valuable.
There’s nothing wrong with that journey, in fact there’s a lot right with that journey. However, it felt as though the stagecraft which told the story of the journey was primary and the story itself was a means to that end.
The story was, in many ways, a mash-up of Paul Bunyan, Jonah and the Whale, The Odyssey, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. We are given a series of tall tales within which the characters feel real emotion.
It is tempting at this point to give The Old Man and the Old Moon a free pass and discuss how fun the experience was, but I think the show is going for something beyond just fun or entertaining. However, I feel as though that whatever that “something beyond” is ends up obscured in the creativity of the tall tales and the charm of the staging.
Creativity and charm are one thing, but freedom is the ultimate goal of any artistic endeavor. In my experience the prerequisites to freedom are beauty and truth. There is beauty and truth in this show, but they are not the center. The storytelling is the center of the show and it lacks the gravitas to “hold the center”.
That The Old Man and the Old Moon goes for something beyond entertaining is commendable, but it becomes distracted by its own cleverness. For all the potential brilliance of the PigPen Theatre Co, this remains, alas, a potential show. Perhaps The Old Man and the Old Moon is a necessary development for the PigPen Theatre Co on their way to finding their fully developed voice.