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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Theatre review: Ages of the Moon is a powerful drama about aging

Jon Bryden returns to the stage after 25 years in this nicely realized production

While the return of Jon Bryden to the stage after a 25 year absence is grounds enough to see Ages of the Moon, there are other reasons this powerful drama is worthy of your attention.

After a busy acting career that took Bryden across Canada and back, he retired for other pursuits. Almost 25 years later he brought this rather obscure Sam Shepard script to Presentation House artistic director, Kim Selody. And even as Selody apologises that Ages of the Moon is about “two old white guys, written by an old white guy, directed by an old white guy, and set designed by an old white guy”, he decided to produce it. Fortunately, Ages of the Moon is told from a vantage point that still makes for a good and worthy story.

In Ages of the Moon, two older men sit on the porch of a small house on the outskirts of an American town, getting drunk. Having been kicked out of the house by his wife, in desperation and grief, Ames calls his long-lost friend, Byron. Although they had grown apart, hearing the anguish in Ames’ voice, Byron drops everything to visit. Like Ames, he too is trying to make sense of his life in his twilight years.

The men drink, reminisce, and bicker over the facts as an ineffectual fan lazily twirls overhead. As they start to challenge each other’s memories, some beliefs give way to new revelations. But are they simply drunken delusions? Which is more fanciful? False memories or the new stories? What will justify and codify their life story? As the drinking continues into the night, tempers start to flare as both men try to find blame for the pitfalls in their life.

Sheppard peppers a light humour in his script, as the two discuss blowjobs, and the playwright’s eccentricity shines through as the overhead fan meets an untimely death. There are also moments of drama, as Byron tells an almost implausible, but powerfully moving story about a lost love.

Under John Cooper’s understated and honest direction, the quiet pace is as warm and welcome as a summer breeze. The challenge of the play is it about memories, and the main goal of the protagonists is in making sense of their life. While the stakes are never high, it is nonetheless a fascinating exploration of human nature and masculine culture.

Alec Willow, who has perfected the dumbstruck curmudgeon. He infuses Byron with an indignant caterwaul that makes the audience laugh, but he also digs deep to find the vulnerability and sadness that haunts his character under his drunken bluster.

Jon Bryden is dynamic and alive on stage. Difficult to keep your eyes off him, his Ames is angry and accusatory, as he tries to find someone to blame for his lot in life. His rage though is combined with a needy sadness that makes you almost forgive his cruelty.

The rustic setting by designer Ted Roberts is faded and decaying, just like the two men. You can practically smell the dust, and feel the heat.

Ages of the Moon is a worthy and intriguing story, in a nicely realized production. The chief reason to go though is to welcome Jon Bryden back to the stage.

Ages of the Moon by Sam Shepard. Directed by John Cooper. A Lonesome Moon Productions presentation with support from Presentation House Theatre. On stage at Presentation House Theatre (333 Chesterfield Avenue, North Vancouver) until November 6. Visit for tickets and information.

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