MOON MAN WALK
by James Ijames
Directed by Charles Jackson Jr.
Stage Manager – Hailey Green
Assistant Stage Manager – Taliyah Salih
Choreographer – Camillia Holman
Costume Designer – Jasmine Woods
Sound Designer – Ryan Simón
Light Designer – Nikki DeShea Smith
Projection Designer – Holli Price
Scenic Designer – Mya Cockrell
Scenic Painter – Jennye James
Master Electrician – Nikki DeShea Smith
Technical Directors – Jennye James & Colin Schwartz
Crew Build – Taylor Allen
Artistic Director – D. Wambui Richardson
Associate Producer – Charles Jackson Jr.
Spencer – Rickie Jones
Petrushka – Mikaela Baker
Esther/Nurse/Flight Attendant – Tharmella Nyahoza
The Astronaut/Funeral Guy/Flower/Kesi – Kyle Gardner
Reviewed Performance: 2/4/2023
Reviewed by Chris Hauge, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
In his ‘special thanks’ in the program, Charles Jackson Jr., the director of Jubilee Theatre’s production of “Moon Man Walk,” dedicates this play “…to the lonely black boy with an absent parent. This play is for the black boy who dreams about their absent parent fighting to return to them because they can’t imagine a reality where their parent would be missing from their life by choice.” That encapsulates the story that unfolds before us, making the phrase, “I love you to the Moon and back!” resonate throughout the evening in heartbreaking and, ultimately, hopeful and life-affirming ways. And it creates a whole lot of magic and wonders along the way.
One of the many things that help bring playwright Ijames’s script to life is scenic designer Mya Cockrell’s marvelous set, which is dominated by the moon, a stepped, circular platform with a large entryway. It is the backdrop for the whimsical projection design of Holli Price and the wonderful lighting work of Nikki DeShea Smith, which take us to the outer reaches of the galaxy, leads us up the limbs of a maternal family tree, or invites us to share in the joyful bursts of imaginative revelry of our narrator and protagonist, Spencer (Rickie Jones).
Spencer is a librarian in his thirties and, as he happily tells the audience, he is good at it. He was raised by his single mother, Esther (Tharmella Nyahoza), and grew to love books and has a job far away from his childhood home in Philadelphia. When Spencer receives word that his mother has unexpectedly died, he must fly back home to make the funeral arrangements. Along the way, he meets free-spirit Petrushka (Mikaela Baker), who helps Spencer calm his fear of flying and becomes his constant companion and potential love interest on this emotional journey across time and space. Upon arriving at his boyhood home, Spencer finds a letter from his mother telling him where he can find his long-absent father, who, according to the story his mother Esther told him as a little boy, was an astronaut (Kyle Gardner) stranded on the moon and struggling to return to his son.
Spencer relives his history as a little boy trying to comprehend why his father wouldn’t want to be with him and living with being left alone by his mother as she went to work to support him. The family myth of his father being on the moon sustains him as a child and bedevils him as an adult when he can no longer see the reality of it. He is lonely and we are his constant companions in his quest to find peace. The fourth wall is totally smashed; at one point Spencer introduces us to his new acquaintance Petrushka and acknowledges that he takes us wherever he goes. We are with him as he grapples with his past and struggles to grow from “mighty man-boy” to mighty man, emotionally mature and becoming able to accept and return love to Petrushka and to his father, who has now, metaphorically, come back from the moon.
Director Charles Jackson Jr. has infused the play with an air of wonder, showing Spencer’s touching and funny trip through his childhood (including moments predating his existence such as the meeting of his parents and the circumstances of his father’s absence) as a magical journey toward reconciliation and growth. The pace of the play is such that its ninety minutes run-time seems to fly by. The costumes of Jasmine Woods complement the mystical feel of the production, particularly the astronaut uniforms and Petrushka’s clothing, which has a kind of spacey feel all its own. Camillia Holman’s choreography for the brief amount of dancing between Spencer and Petrushka has a lovely natural feel, and, I am guessing, Ms. Holman may have had a hand in the weightless moonwalk of the astronaut, which is fun to watch.
Rickie Jones is completely winning as Spencer. He greets us with a guileless openness that endears us to him. His changes from a stubborn little boy are distinct and believable. Mr. Jones has an everyman feel to him (dare I say, almost like a grown-up Charlie Brown) that allows us to identify with the character’s odyssey and cheer him on as he progresses. As Petrushka, Mikaela Baker radiates the life and openness to love that eludes Spencer. Like a tenacious puppy, Petrushka holds onto him and becomes an active part of his journey toward emotional maturity. Ms. Baker gives an exuberant, caring performance and she is great fun to watch.
The characters of a nurse and a flight attendant are played by Tharmella Nyahoza, but most of her stage time is given to portraying Spencer’s mother, Esther. Ms. Nyahoza ably shows us both the strength needed and the frustration and fatigue involved with being a single parent. We see her caring, loving side, yet we also witness her hitting her limit and saying things that can never be unsaid. Ms. Nyahoza performs with honesty and courage.
Kyle Gardner also plays multiple parts as an astronaut, a flower guy, and a funeral guy (who reminds me of Clarence Williams III’s funeral director in "Tales From the Hood”). It is his work as Spencer’s father Kesi, that touches our hearts. Showing us both the fiction of trying to return from the moon to the reality of his choices that alienated him from Esther and his unborn son, Mr. Gardner makes the role resonate with truth.
So, spend 90 minutes with Spencer and Petrushka and join them on a journey from the past to the present, from loneliness to love, and to the moon and back. I promise you will find enchantment along the way. Take the trip.
MOON MAN WALK
Through February 26, 2023
Friday – Saturday – 8:00PM
Saturday – Sunday – 3:00PM
506 Main St, Fort Worth, TX 76102
For tickets and more information call the Box Office at 817-338-4411
Or visit on the Web at www.jubileetheatre.org