Simon raves about ‘Moon over the Brewery’ in Naples
There’s a play down in Naples that I really, really, REALLY liked. It’s the Naples Players’ production of a play by Bruce Graham’s play called “Moon Over The Brewery,” and what a joy it was to watch. Graham paints four distinct characters, not perfect people in any way, but all worth caring about, even if one of them is as imaginary as the Rabbit in the play “Harvey.” But, wait, I get ahead of myself.
“Moon Over the Bowery” is about a single mom and her very bright 13-year- old daughter. The mother, Miriam, is a waitress at a diner, but also a most accomplished artist working in many different media. She comes on late in Act I, and you are eager to meet her. Graham writes beautifully. He is from the Philadelphia area, serving as playwright-in-residence at the Philadelphia Festival Theater for New Plays. Maybe his best known play is “Coyote on the Fence.” That play won the 1998 Rosenthal Prize and received several 1999 Barrymore Award nominations.
The Naples Players have done it justice. I want to give an incredible round of applause to Jackie Morelisse and Matt Flynn who have designed a set that I urge you to come early for, just so you sit there and marvel at it. There is no curtain. You simply move into the waitress’s flat. You feel the wild artist she is. Nothing conventional here. And moonscapes are everywhere.
Moonscapes are almost like another character in the play. But so is loneliness. Beware, your own loneliness may be confronted. The play opens with a scene between the 13-year-old Amanda and a marvelous mysterious tall man with a great bass-voice, dressed in a white suit that makes you think of Truman Copte. Amanda was brilliantly played by Emily Bronner on the night I saw it. She deserved the rounding standing ovation the audience gave her. (On alternative nights you might see Julia Von. My guess is she will be good, too.)
Amanda is clearly irritated by the man and urges him to go away. The audience is thinking, is this her divorced father, an uncle, or who can he be? He has some great lines to start the play off. He says, “In all false modesty, you need me.” Especially, concerning a boy named Peter who is interested in Amanda. The intruder, Randolph by name, and very ably played by Vic Caroli, seems to know something about the budding relationship between Peter and Amanda. He turns to the audience. “Thirteen. That’s when they start. Everyone needs a hobby.”
It becomes clear that he’s not her father nor is he one of the men her mother has dated. He rattles them off: “That awful one, The Prince of Polyester, and then there was Steve, the truck driver, and Morty, another loser, who loved country music, that stuff where women sing through their nose.”
The plot thickens. The night before, her mother had snuck a man into the house and Amanda heard laughter in the middle of the night. She also finds a clue, substantial evidence that a man has spent the night. Clearly, Amanda knows, if her mom’s loneliness has reached a hot point, Amanda’s life will change.
This is where we learn that Randoph is not real. He is an imaginary playmate, but since Amanda is so advanced intellectually, she has built someone who could be a professor, a philosopher, an art critic, or just another semi-genius like herself, only a lot older. It turns out Randolph grows out of the latest novel Amanda is reading,
and she reads a lot. He changes costumes for every new novel, but he’s always there.
We get to meet the man who is the snuckee, as it were. He is a mailman. Nothing too impressive. He has a noticeable pot belly and he’s wearing shorts and those Post Office socks. Randolph mumbles to the audience, “You’d think someone who walks all day might be in better shape.” Frank Garofolo who plays the mailman, Warren, understands the role. His laugh, might be too much. It got a little irritating, but it’s there to remind us of the laughter Amanda heard coming from the bedroom the night before. It’s still early in the run. The director Paul Graffy, who did such a fine job with the whole cast, I am confident, will guide the laughter to where it might serve the play better.
Amanda confronts the mailman (while being coached by Randolph). There is some wonderful back and forth coming-of-age dialogue. We sit enthralled as the three of them bang away at the event of the night before and what it all means to a bright 13-year-old living with a single mom.
Eventually, the mailman departs and Miriam returns. We see Amanda rise to her full stature as she goes after her mother, who finally says, “Don’t be so rough on me.” Miriam’s body, a little happy from the night before, cries out to the loneliness. She says, “I don’t want to be alone all the time. And she adds with some bitterness, ” Nothing runs faster than a man intimidated by a 13-year-old daughter.” Act I closes as she goes out into the night to finish another moonscape with the line, “I can’t wait ’til you have a daughter.”
I urge you to come to see all that happens in Act II. The playwright, Bruce Graham keeps it moving, never pandering to sentimentality, yet writing tender, sensitive lines for each of the people caught up in the drama.
When the lights grew dark, and the cast came out for curtain calls to thunderous applause, I knew I had spent a satisfying night in the theater with a play and a cast that puts on the kind of theater I love. I was moved, and challenged and totally involved in the lives that unfolded there in Blackburn Hall at the Sugden in Naples.
Get your tickets fast. I predict it will be a sell out. The play runs until Feb. 7. Wednesday to Sunday. Tickets are $30 for adults, $10 for students. (Incidentally, there were many young students in the audience when I was there.) The box office number is: 239-263-7990.