Photo © Michael Wharley

Ages of the Moon

★ ★ ★ ★

Sam Shepard’s Ages of the Moon is a moving exploration of the realities of aging. Originally written and performed in 2009, it premieres in the UK at the quirky The Vaults Theatre in the railway arches under Waterloo station. The production’s first-rate acting and impeccable writing combine to deliver humorous and poignant moments in equal measure.

Ages of the Moon starts as Ames (Christopher Fairbank) invites his old friend, Byron (Joseph Marcell), over to drink whiskey and watch the lunar eclipse. Both in their sixties, the two begin to reminisce about their past, flipping from philosophical ruminations to crude conversations about women ‘on bikes.’ As the alcohol continues to flow, their musings become increasingly incoherent and their memories questionable. As Shepard said of his “later plays” (interview with the New York Times, 12 February 2010), alcohol is used “not as a moral issue, but as a disaster.” Indeed, it is many drinks down when Ames’ already fragile mental state transforms into a delirious episode of rage, falsely recollecting a memory of Byron making a romantic move on his then-wife, which leads him to choke his friend before regaining his senses.

This incident also highlights the physical frailty of Byron’s body, as he wheezes and struggles to recover his breathing, shouting “something’s broken.” In many ways old age can be cruel, and the play attempts to deal with the physical and emotional implications of human mortality. Grief, being one of these, is treated through Marcell’s heart-rending monologue articulating Byron’s pain from the recent loss of his wife.

However, despite its somber themes, this production shows us the endurance and tenderness of human relationships. Ames and Byron find solace in their friendship, which is authentically portrayed by Fairbank and Marcell. It is this sentiment that we are left with, as the two men sit side by side on the edge of the porch, their figures engulfed by the white light of the eclipse.