Sen McGinley, Stephen Rea
Not much really happens in Ages of the Moon, the latest Sam Shepard play to hit New York after a run at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre (the last was Kicking a Dead Horse at the Public in 2008). Two men sit together on a porch. Plenty of elliptical discussion occurs over the fates of the two men’s wives – one has presumably died, the other has left her husband.
It’s sort of what it would be like if a haggard older John Wayne walked onto the set of a Beckett play. Sam Shepard – perhaps the preeminent playwright of the American West of our time (after all, most writers focus on the coasts) has a deft ear for the poetry of everyday speech and for the endings of lives, and it shows in this tender, somewhat underwhelming play.
The play begins with a discussion between Ames (Stephen Rea), the spurned husband, and his old friend Byron (Sen McGinley), who’s come to see Ames because of a distressing late-night phone call he received. As the play evolves, the situations unfold gradually. Absurdities abound (“Is there anything sexier than women on bikes?” Ames muses), and as the evening goes on, the characters begin to parse one another’s word choices, drinking more and more whisky and watching the fan overhead turn at a constantly changing, erratic pace.
Stephen Rea and Sen McGinley both acquit themselves well as the play’s two stalwart porch sitters, McGinley’s calm rationale butting heads with Rea’s troubling, volatile behavior. Once Rea’s Ames has pulled out his shot gun and smoked the overhead fan, we in the audience know things are going to heat up. Though, ultimately, little ever comes of the finite amount of suspense Shepard has built (including more details about both characters would add to our empathy toward them), Shepard’s use of language – often gruff, brusque language – is nonetheless impressive and engaging throughout.