Separating the wheat from the chaff

The Wheat and the Moon

By Shawn Hirabayashi
Directed by Erin Brindley
Ripple Productions
Non-union production (closed)
Review by Doug DeVita

With The Wheat and the Moon, Shawn Hirabayashi has written a play that is at once cerebral yet accessible, serious yet funny, and most of all, challenging yet hugely entertaining. With an African folk tale, the Orpheus and Euridice myth, and the Oscar Wilde children’s story The Rose and the Nightingale as his source material, Hirabayashi has weaved an altogether enchanting fable that works entirely on its own merit, regardless of familiarity (or lack thereof) with the original narratives.

As he did with his OOBR Award-winning Funny, Hirabayashi once again explores the repercussions of personal choice vs. the greater good. Hafizi and Nitida are lovers who, after Hafizi is killed, are willing to sacrifice the order of the universe to be together one last time. Their quest, which encompasses confrontations with Orpheus and the gods Bes, Baba and Apollo, takes them, and the audience, on a journey that explores the meanings of love, mourning, and free will with all the inherent pleasure and pain uncompromisingly exposed. But Hirabayashi skillfully parlays this abundance of feeling into a joyous celebration of life in all its absurd, sometimes awful glory with smart, thought-provoking theatricality.

Erin Brindley directed the work with clear concision. While her touch was subtle, it was evident in every facet of the production, from the quickly paced yet dreamy tone of the evening, to the impressively realized performances of the well-chosen cast, and finally to the gorgeous design that captured the many worlds of the play within a single but lavish unit set, simple yet rich costumes and quicksilver lighting and sound. (Set by Brian MacInnis, costumes by Katherine Jaeger, lighting by Peter Hoerburger, sound by Brindley.)

And the performances were all impressive. Brendan Hines made Orpheus a goofy, although commanding, presence; Benjamin Thomas and Kate Hess were quite touching as the separated lovers Hafizi and Nitida; and Max Davies gave individual life to the gods Bes, Baba; and Apollo with insouciant glee. Yet despite the strikingly distinctive individuality of each performer, they also all melded into an extraordinarily seamless ensemble, giving The Wheat and the Moon that singularly cohesive energy that separates the amateur from the professional, and in so doing gave Hirabayashi another perfect forum for his singularly, softly insistent voice.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2004 Doug DeVita