nytheatre.com review by Neal Utterback
August 15, 2004
Moonchild, by Maureen Fitzgerald, centers around a fictionalized meeting of L. Ron Hubbard and the eccentric rocket scientist turned Satanist, Jack Parsons. Mix in two parts grift, one part Aleister Crowley and a dash of lunacy and you have the makings of a wonderful comic adventure. However, much of this production fails to fully live up to the text's promise.
Parsons, played by the handsome Eric Altheide, is hell-bent on conceiving the spawn of Satan, or Moonchild. The child will bring about chaos, the end of civilization, yadda yadda yadda. Seeing dollar signs, Hubbard (Jonathan Cantor) finagles his way into a lucrative agreement with Parsons and his wife’s sister (and lover), the befuddled Betty Northrop (Abby Wathen). Hubbard, who recites self-actualizing mantras written on cue cards, enlists the help of fellow con Marjorie Cameron (Heather Tom). Cameron is to be the Mother-Queen of the demon child. Determined to foil their attempts, Betty and Parsons' best friend Billy Crewson (Andrew Shulman) call cult master Aleister Crowley (played wonderfully by David Jones).
Parsons' sex cult offers the perfect backdrop for this play, billed as a farce, which has characters jumping into bed with one another, double crossing con artists, and enough wit to cloak the production’s shortcomings. Playwright Fitzgerald has enriched the text with fun, energetic dialogue that has the flavor of a World War II-era America and yet remains topical and accessible. She deconstructs Hubbard’s ideologies as a comment on the corruption of the American Dream and yet manages to maintain him as a kind of anti-hero.
Unfortunately, in reaching for a farcical acting style, I fear that the production only manages to be dishonest and forced. It was often unclear if the actors were specifically directed to give “takes” to the audience or if they were looking for their aunt. For my money, it is always better, comedy or drama, to have actors commit to honest actions born out of high-stakes situations. That being the standard, the more desperate the actions, the funnier the character will seem to the audience. Unfortunately, at the performance of Moonchild I saw, there was a lot of winking and nodding from the actors but not a lot of laughing from the audience.