Moonlight & Love Songs
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
November 10, 2008
A note from the Workshop Theater Company's artistic director in the program for Moonlight & Love Songs tells us:
We're watching the story of a couple in love, and like Bogey and Bergman in Casablanca, they're a couple whose circumstances continue to force them apart. The journey of the play takes place over many years, but the events are concentrated on the beginnings of their romance and the tragic consequences of a simple deception.
I'm not sure that I agree with the foregoing assessment of this new play by Scott C. Sickles. I certainly wouldn't characterize the lie that causes the three-month love affair between Jim Bennett and Harry Wallace to explode as a simple deception. The explosion is cataclysmic for the two men—more so than the play lets on when you stop to think about it, because what's revealed is the kind of thing that ruins lives forever. (Unfortunately, if I tell you more about the nature of the lie, I will ruin the play for you.)
I'm not sure I agree that the lovers in Casablanca are exactly analogous to Jim and Harry, either. The main problem I had with Moonlight & Love Songs, in fact, is that I never really believed in the inevitability of their pairing. Harry is a 46-year-old architect who one day chats with a good-looking man who works for some landscapers working outside his window. Within minutes, the young man—Jim—is hitting on Harry pretty aggressively. They decide to see a movie together, wind up having wild, passionate, fabulous sex, and then—boom—they're in love. But Sickles gives us very little apart from the sex to explain the love to us. What do the 46-year-old architect and the guy young enough to be his son have in common? We're supposed to accept them as soulmates, but I just kept wondering what they had to talk about when they finished making love.
Now, don't get me wrong: though they're no Ilsa and Rick, Jim and Harry are nonetheless a sympathetic couple to root for, and I felt good when it seemed like they were going to make their romance work, and I felt bad when things began to unravel for them. I certainly wanted a happy ending for them, despite all the reasons why I probably shouldn't have. Credit for this goes to Ryan Tresser, the extremely appealing young actor who plays Jim and makes him well nigh irresistible, as well as to Jeff Woodman, who gives us a stolid Harry, and director David Gautschy, who keeps the plot zipping by with admirable tautness.
Filling out the story are Harry's sister and her husband, Ben, who is also Harry's boss and best friend; as portrayed by Jeff Paul he's the most entirely likable and even-handed character in the play. Jim's parents figure in the drama as well, though it would be wrong for me to give too much away about that; what I can tell you is that his mother is a cancer sufferer who is also coping with a philandering husband, and in an interesting diversion midway through Moonlight, Sickles explores how the mother and son cope with all of these circumstances. Anne Fizzard makes the most of this section of the play as Mrs. Bennett.
I wanted to like Moonlight & Love Songs much more than I finally did, because I love the idea of an unrequited passion as much as the next hopeless romantic. But I kept getting pulled away from the story by details that didn't ring true, like how an inexperienced young gardener goes up to a middle-aged man he's never met and propositions him without any apparent fear of, I don't know, getting punched in the nose. Growing up gay in America is not a Hollywood fantasy, not yet, and I was bothered that Sickles doesn't acknowledge that fact more in his play.