nytheatre.com review by Nathaniel Kressen
April 27, 2008
"Now, at last, I'm in a story." So reflects Silent Leila, following the murder that sets off this solid new play from the Scottish company TAG Citizen's Theatre.
Yellow Moon (The Ballad of Leila and Lee) first introduces us to the character of Leila as a self-destructive young girl who has chosen to stop speaking because "most people hear what they want to anyways." She desperately seeks proof that she exists, and at last she finds it in Stag Lee, an awkward but charming teenager who fantasizes about living a life of crime. A chance encounter one night brings them together, and a crime of self-defense then sends them on the run into the Scottish highlands where Lee hopes they will find refuge with his estranged father.
This new play by David Greig comes to New York following a run at the 2007 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and is playing through May 18 as part of the Brits Off Broadway festival at 59E59 in Midtown. Another play by Greig, Damascus, is also in the festival.
The clarity and simplicity of Greig's story telling in Yellow Moon lends its director and actors ample opportunity to play. There are four actors: two take the title roles of Leila and Lee, the others play a variety of characters. All four take part in the narration, often leaping over one another in succession. The narration covers action, back story, and emotions left unsaid.
This device works exceptionally well in the case of Silent Leila in a scene when she tries connecting with Lee as they flee north. He asks her why she's stopped talking—whether it was all at once or otherwise...what event set her off. We hear her respond, and watch as they draw closer, however the narrators soon tell us that the conversation "of course" never happened that way. We once again hear Lee's questions, this time left unanswered, and appreciate the intimacy that has been lost.
Greig's script is sharp and full of action, its conclusion at once surprising and inevitable. The capable direction of Guy Hollands builds upon its idea of story telling. He seats the audience fully in the round, leaving barely 15 feet across the stage. He gives the actors only four chairs with which to work, and often has them guide the audience as though they were an audience of school children listing to a fairy tale.
Indeed, the producing company TAG Citizen's Theatre specializes in touring children's shows in the Glasgow region, yet this is anything but a children's work. At times, as if to keep the audience on its toes, the narration ignores the story in favor of a character's inner monologue, and by doing so reveals more than linear description ever could. Hollands crafts Yellow Moon into a haunting world in which what is most sacred and intimate to its characters is brought to the forefront rather than left unsaid, yet he still strikes an important balance by focusing on the play's driving action—the characters' quest for redemption and understanding.
The cast excels in the challenges set by their masterful playwright and director. While watching, the audience immediately gets a sense of their pride after having spent two years with this production and taken it to venues across the globe.
Nalini Chetty endows Leila with a desperation that erupts when least expected, yet wisely keeps it under the radar for much of the play. She instead invests in her character's whimsical fascinations, adding a needed light touch to a troubled character. Andrew Scott-Ramsay's best moments as Stag Lee come when he is forced into situations where he at once terrified yet unwilling to back down. In one scene Lee and Leila unsuccessfully attempt to make love. He tries to woo her with crass advances, but only succeeds in pushing her away. Without warning he breaks down sobbing that he "doesn't know what to do." This moment, like many, rings true of young love and guides Yellow Moon into the realm of a coming-of-age story. Keith MacPherson and Beth Marshall own the stage with an array of well-drawn characters, and stay invested throughout as the empathizing narrators. The four make a bold ensemble, and help make Yellow Moon a memorable night of theatre.