november 2016 | Volume 149
Jon Bryden (Ames) & Al Willows. Photo credit: Chris van der Schyf.
Opening night of Ages of the Moon at Presentation House Theatre was like a high school reunion for the over-60s crowd. The audience was packed with people who have been making theatre in this town for decades, all come to see a show put together by their peers.
My own connections with these artists go back 30 years and more. I was in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Stanley Park with Al Willows in 1973, and in Midtown Aces at the Playhouse with Jon Bryden in the 1980s. Director John Cooper cast me as Attila the Hun in his MFA thesis production (Ian Weir’s Sacking) at UBC in the ‘80s, and costume designer Alison Green and I were colleagues for many years at UBC. Green, stage manager Marion Anderson, and set and lighting designer Ted Roberts all go as far back as the Seymour Street Arts Club where I also worked in the 1970s, when professional theatre in Vancouver was just getting its legs.
I wax nostalgic not just because of the company and associations, but because Ages of the Moon is Sam Shepard’s geezer Godot, a play about a couple of old guys remembering, contesting their memories, measuring and testing their half-century-long friendship, and feeling the weight of time and age.
They’re sitting on the porch of a fishing cabin to which Ames (Bryden) has been exiled after his wife discovered his sexual hanky panky. He called his old friend Byron (Willows) to join him. They drink bourbon under a fan that mysteriously stops and starts, waiting for an eclipse of the moon, carrying on an absurd conversation, much of it about the singer Roger Miller but the details don’t matter. They argue and compete over nothing at all important. “I was there …” No you weren’t!” Like Beckett’s Didi and Gogo, they talk to fill the time and the emptiness.
Ames is a grouch, pushing his friend away in exasperation and then drawing him back, lording over the more rational Byron who seems willing and able to adjust to Ames’ mood changes. Bryden is just fine as Ames. After many years away from the stage, he hasn’t missed a beat. He’s often just a straight man for Willows, whose comic timing is terrific, and whose character is much more likable.
There’s a real warmth to their adversarial to and fro, the kind that comes seasoned by a decades-long friendship. I’m talking about the characters, but also about these fine veteran actors and a director beautifully attuned to their rhythms, all of them connected personally and professionally over many years. When Ames and Byron, Jon and Alec, wrap themselves in a blanket against the cold of the encroaching night and the impending darkness of the moon at the end of this lovely little show, you can feel the warmth in the bones of this hundred-year-old building, and in your own.
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