By Dawnell Smith
Every time Dolly waits anxiously by the gate for her husband, another layer of truth unfolds--the lies and promises that get people through the day, the grudges and regrets that follow them to the grave.
"Sway Me, Moon" doesn't so much worship its characters as love them to death; the dense and poignant play about a broken son who tends his aging mother doesn't so much bask in the light of the moon as hover in its shadow.
The story centers on an old woman, Dolly (Linda Benson), who lives with her son Angel (Dean Williams) and finds refuge in fantasies about a lifelong romance with Dean Martin (Frank Delaney). Worn out and bitter, Angel tries to cope with his mother's fading memory and incomprehensible delusions while working a demolition job at the site of an unnamed terrorist attack.
He shows up angry in the first scene and only gets worst, leveling his greatest rage at Verita Ramos (Dana Fahrney), an old widow whose son died in a toppled building.
"It's an ugly world, and that's one ugly woman," Angel says to his only hope and love interest, Raizy (Lacey Ruskin).
As madness crosses all borders, from the real to fantasy, personal to political, past to present, literal to metaphor, crazy Dolly begins to sound more and more sane. When she calls Angel a "destruction worker" instead of a "demolition worker," she speaks the truth; when she sets her sights on getting Angel and Raizy together, she knows it's their only way out.
The script by poet and playwright Arlitia Jones of Anchorage cuts to the emotional viscera of irony and rends every delicate hope in half, leaving only the fissure to chew on. (Of course, I know Jones from poetry classes and readings, and have always admired her work.)
Through language and cues, the play moves deftly between worlds and textures, from the hardened city where Angel bulldozes concrete and flesh to the theatrical sashay of Dolly's "Sway Me" crooner, Dino.
Except for a few flubs here and there, the actors hit their mark on opening night, especially the flawless Benson as Dolly. Angel's inner conflict drives the plot, but Dolly anchors every character to the others, every perspective to the story.
Benson flushes out Dolly's nuances and humor without coming off affected. In some ways, Williams has a harder task playing Angel, an acerbic shell of a man on the brink of his own insanity. His performance started off stiff on Friday night--maybe even by design--but grew more fluid as the show wore on.
Throughout, Dean Martin songs set the mood as musical interludes and accompaniments, adding lightness and levity to ravaged terrain. The set and props looked great too, from the alluring peach tree to the screen door, symbols of longing, entrapment, connection and hope.
Savagery and compassion spring from the same sources.
Schatzie Schaefers directs these elements without losing sight of the big picture, namely the rubble within and around us all, and the many ways of seeing through it. If anything, the production could use a little more time to settle into itself and smooth around the edges.
But, then, couldn't we all. As serious local theater, you don't get much better than this.
"Sway Me, Moon" by Three Wise Moose Productions continues on Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. until February 17th at Out North , 3800 Debarr Road. Tickets cost $18 online, $20 at the door (279-3800, www.outnorth.org). An additional Valentine's Day performance will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, February 14.