Arts & Events

Theater Review: Anton's Well Theater Company & the Bay Area Premiere of Sam Shepard's 'Ages of the Moon'

Ken Bullock
Saturday December 17, 2016 - 09:01:00 AM

Two men sit on a moonlit porch, somewhere out in the country, but God knows just where. One of the pair, we discover (after the dying strains of Hank Williams singing "Have You Ever Been Lonely?") has just traveled "across the country" by bus (again, from God knows where) to sit it (whatever "it" is) out with his old buddy who called him in the middle of the night for his company ... 

This is, not too surprisingly, the set-up for a Sam Shepard play, but one never seen before in the Bay Area, which prides itself on Shepard's career-making stint, featured by the Magic Theatre in San Francisco some decades ago, and on the many plays of his that have been premiered there. 

This isn't one of those. 'Ages of the Moon' is a chamber play, a genuine two-hander throughout--and something like a genial, then contentious, then friendly again game of five-card stud between two old partners at protracted adolescence--or explorations of what they probably believe the code of the frontier would've called "manhood." 

Thanks is due to Anton's Well Theater Company and its founder/artistic director Robert Estes for this enjoyable, engaging production of a later, not so well-known Shepard piece. After a spirited welcome and introduction by the director, telling in part what role Shepard's plays have had in his theatrical and personal life, the long in-and-out dialogue--with a Strindbergian Monologue, spoken to a silent listener, but really directed to the audience, the I-beam of American theater since O'Neill--between the two alternately sly, alternately sincere old varmints commences ... 

In a time where artistic direction has often meant no more than Hallmark-like themed seasons--"Five Plays about Love"--Estes has been practicing his own personal form of dramaturgy with wonderful results--"personal" in that he stages what he thinks should be put on, with the actors and backstage people he wants to work with--and his taste has proven to be on the money so far, even in this case to Shepard skeptics like me in the audience. Through the magic of live theater, a committed director and his equally meticulous and fired-up actors have polished this bit of semi-stylized lunacy up to a lustrous shine. 

David Cramer as the bemused Ames and David Cramer as Byron, his comic sensitive sidekick, make what could just be mannered false naïvete into Manneristic, bittersweet humor--"what you find instead of what you expect to find," as Pirandello defined modern humor--in what Estes calls "this rueful comic drama." Their performances give it the air of one of Peckinpah's "little movies," the details of daily decorum by loners and eccentrics in 'Junior Bonner' or 'The Ballad of Cable Hogue.' Their burlesque team-like rapport plays off the turns of Samuel Beckett's ne'er-do-well duos, underlining the impression that Shepard's scripts are in some ways a combination of the Midwestern madcap loquacity of his fellow Greenwich Village folkie denizen Bob Dylan about the mythical West, reloaded with the misdirections and pauses of a page or two from 'Godot.' 

Their colloquy runs in and around and out of talk about women, none being present: "I can't get her out of my mind." ... "This isn't going to be another song opportunity, is it?" 

It's the last weekend for this show, a little gem of a production. 

Friday & Saturday at 8, closing show Sunday at 2. Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Avenue (between Ellsworth & Dana)$17-$20. (510) 368-0090