By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
Moon Man Walk is the first of six productions of Orbiter 3, a new playwrights' collective in Philadelphia, created to give new scripts a chance to be seen. James Ijames, the author of Moon Man Walk, is an excellent high-profile starting point, having scooped up Barrymore Awards, Pew grants and all manner of career-making prizes. Last summer we saw his brilliant tragicomedy, The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington.
But unlike the fiercely unsentimental Miz Martha, Moon Man Walk, is a quieter, sweeter, smaller play, about one "mighty manboy" named Monarch (Lindsay Smiling). It's an old, old story: a young man goes in quest of the father he never knew. But unlike Telemachus whose father Odysseus really was an epic hero, Monarch knows that the heroic stories about his father the astronaut, deserted on the moon, are merely fictions, elaborate lies told to him by a mother (Jaylene Clark Ownes) who wanted to console her little boy and explain their abandonment.
Monarch returns to Philadelphia for his mother's funeral. She was a tough-talking woman who left her son alone every night. This doubly abandoned child grew up fearful and quiet, loving books, becoming a librarian.
He meets Petrushka (Aime Donna Kelly), a young, free-spirited woman he sees first in his library and then when she is, coincidentally, sitting next to him on the plane home. Whether she is real or just a psychological necessity, a fantasy to free the "Mama's boy," remains ambiguous. Kelly's mischievous, knowing smile is a perfect contrast to Smiling's expressionless demeanor, a big man whose body seems defined by stillness and silence.
Petrushka joins Monarch and helps him through his painful ordeal—the return to the house where they find letters from his father (Carlo Campbell who also plays all the other roles—astronaut, funeral director, florist, etc).
Edward Sobel directs this journey into a psyche on a dimly lit platform in an abstract, choreographed style, as characters orbit each other on a bare stage. The script itself seems more suited to realism, where the intimacy of the conversations would contrast dramatically with the memories, but these accomplished actors make Moon Man Walk seem genuine and interesting.
Orbiter 3 at the Black Box at Prince Theater at 1412 Chestnut Street. Through July 19.