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ISSUE 118 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 11/19/2004

One nostalgic 'Moon' walk

By Ross Nielsen
Contributing Writer

Friday, November 19, 2004

Focusing on the harsh and sometimes comedic facets of 1960s life, playwright Michael Weller's "Moonchildren" seems as though it should appeal almost exclusively to the generation who actually bought Bob Dylan albums when they were originally released. However, the recent St. Olaf production of Weller's masterpiece proves any notion of such generational exclusivity wrong.

The play is wrought with universally relatable emotion. Associate Professor of theater and "Moonchildren" director Bill Sonnega has skillfully adapted Weller's script, which follows a group of college and graduate school coeds through a year of tumultuous change against the backdrop of America during the Vietnam War.

When audience members file out of Kelsey Theater after seeing the show, they will likely be left to question the concept of life itself, and whether or not said concept has changed over the past 40 years.

With flower-print shirts, peace rallies and Bob Dylan posters, the play's setting looks more like the typical college of the 21st century, rather than that of the late 1960s. While not every facet of the latter decade has cleanly merged with the former, enough overlap has occurred to give younger theatergoers something to which they can relate.

Continuously immersed in their adopted personas throughout the show, the actors in "Moonchildren" seem blessed with a flair for the dramatic. Though Sonnega posed the acting crew with the challenge of reliving a decade they had never experienced, the actors infused their characters with personality. By incorporating the details of the 1960s - the clothes, the hair, the social scene - the actors seem to have acclimated very well to the era about which their parents have told them so much.

Laced with both humor and tragedy, "Moonchildren" loosely revolves around the unhappy romance of Bob (Ian Miller '05) and Kathy (Anna Sundberg '05). Bob and Kathy are two of seven housemates living in a milk bottle-strewn apartment. All of the housemates are students who endlessly rant about homosexuality, the dramas of college life and the travesties of war. Bob and Kathy's relationship reaches a pinnacle when Bob realizes his mother is dying and that Kathy has cheated on him.

The first scene opens on a pitch-black stage; the audience hears housemates Ruth (Mandy Morgan '06), Mike (Christian Cooper '06) and Mel (Matt Rein '05) babbling nonsensically about what audiences later learn is a cat giving birth. The opening is a witty introduction to the characters that sets the wheels of conflict in motion.

Each character in "Moonchildren" fits seamlessly into the play. Mike and Mel (also referred to as "Cootie") are kings of an off-key humor - the fantasists of the college lot. Ruth, with her level head and unabashed honesty, is gleefully tolerant and seems to hold the house together.

Eccentric characters round out the cast and add a necessary element of intrigue. Norman (Jake Mahler '07) is a mathematics graduate student who - after reading various books on the Vietnam War - brings a pistol to an anti-war march. He later decides that a more "relevant" course of protest is to set himself on fire alongside his flower-child girlfriend Shelly (Stephanie Polt '06), who has a fondness for sitting underneath tables. Dick (David Middlecamp '05), the most universally disliked of the housemates, is slightly sexually ambiguous as Kathy's "other man."

Throw in a landlord with appalling sexual fantasies (played with extreme comedic finesse by Professor of religion Jim Hanson) who shares his stories with the tenants, a sympathetic cop (Associate Professor of music Jim McKeel) and a suffering war veteran who lives downstairs (Ted Koshiol '06), and the cast of "Moonchildren" is complete. Meant to reflect the harsh disappointments of the "real world," Weller's characters reflect humorous stereotypes possessing surprising depth and humanity.

Having chosen an incredible cast and crew, Sonnega tastefully incorporated the experiences of the past with the realities of the present, while imbuing the play with a unique perspective. The play's set, complete with windows and a crummy refrigerator inscribed with the words "God is cool," brought everything together, while the classical costumes allowed each character to reflect their individual style.

While the 1960s have come and gone, the legacy of the decade will remain. Through "Moonchildren," Weller shows audiences that even today, a lesson can be learned from years past. His attention to detail and focus on the "big picture" keeps this play relevant and meaningful. While "Moonchildren" may not go down in history as the most entertaining or uplifting play ever written (in fact, it is downright depressing), it is sure to make a lasting impression on the St. Olaf campus.

Moonchildren will continue to be shown Nov. 18 through Nov. 21 at 7:30 p.m. in Kelsey Theater.

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