Review: Keep Your Gaze "Fastened to the Moon"

Fastened to the Moon

Written by Linda Kampley

Directed by Kathleen Swan

Presented by American Renaissance Theater Company at the Chain Theatre

312 W. 36th St., 4th floor, Manhattan, NYC

September 15-October 1, 2022

(L) Nick W. (Astronaut #2), Pёtra Denison (Katherine), (R) Ryan Clardy (Astronaut 1). Photo by Michele Becker
Fastened to the Moon, for which playwright Linda Kampley won the 2019 Jerry Kaufman Award for excellence in playwriting, wastes no time in laying a firm grasp on the audience's attention, dropping spectators immediately into the midst of some clearly untoward goings on. Twenty-three-year-old Katherine (Pёtra Denison) is still in a hazy state of medicated half-sleep when her husband, Robert (Ryan Wesen) tells her that he is leaving–in the dark of night–for a multi-day fishing charter. Days later, Katherine hasn't seen any sign of Robert, but she has seen a pair of astronauts, and she is about to meet a pair of law enforcement officers who would like to see Robert themselves. What ensues in this entertainingly disconcerting, occasionally surreal production will ultimately prove as momentous for Katherine as the moon landing about which she longs to ask the mysterious astronauts.
(L) Nick Walther as Deputy Sheriff Jim & (R) Ryan Clardy as Sheriff Ed. Photo by Michele Becker
Katherine's fascination with the moon is linked to the play's setting in 1971, not long after astronauts set foot there for the first time, but it simultaneously reflects the same desire for new experiences and new horizons that helped motivate her precipitous marriage to Robert. Katherine's mother (played with comedic finesse by Donna Wandrey), a woman of white gloves and social niceties at a time when the Women's Movement was in full swing, represents the opposite of the excitement promised by Robert, and most likely embodies a personal future from which Katherine wished to escape. Katherine wonders more than once about what was left behind on the moon, something that she says would be "only human" but also a phrase that carries multiple senses. Katherine has, for example, left her family and previous life behind only to end up confined to an isolated house in the Florida heat, an oppressive situation adeptly conjured by the production. The intrusion into this isolation of Sheriff Ed (Ryan Clardy) (left behind by his wife) and his deputy Jim (Nick Walther)–as well as the astronauts, of course, also played by Clardy and Walther–catalyzes for Katherine a reevaluation of memory and perception.
(L to R) Donna Wandrey (Mother), Pёtra Denison (Katherine), Ryan Clardy (Astronaut #1), Ryan Wesen (Robert), & Nick Walther (Astronaut #2). Photo by Michele Becker
Fastened to the Moon dips in and out of Katherine's–and occasionally Robert's–psyche, sometimes in what seems more straightforwardly an inner monologue and sometimes what might be viewed as "Owl Creek Bridge"-style dilations of time. The play offers a satisfying blend of comedy, character-driven psychological exploration, and the tension of a crime thriller. Wesen brings ample charm (and some very funny moments) to Robert's menace; Clardy and Walther artfully convey the officers' long partnership through even their frictions and are even better as the slightly unreal, exaggeratedly upstanding astronauts; and Denison gives a memorably multifaceted performance as Katherine. Fastened to the Moon takes both Katherine and the audience on a trip that her astronauts would envy.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards  

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