Review: "Moon School" is Uncannily Terrific

Moon School

Written and composed by Victor Jones

Directed and developed by Alysia Homminga

Presented by Moon School Productions and Sean M. Bogue in association with The Tank

312 W 36th St. 1st Fl., Manhattan, NYC

October 2-10, 2023

Al Groppi. Photo by Arielle Domantay
Putting the past behind oneself can be easier said than done; those traumatic events and persons better left buried by the passage of time, sometimes they come back. The unquiet past certainly haunts the characters in playwright and composer Victor Jones's wonderful Moon School, inspired by their real-life boarding-school experiences and currently making its world premiere at The Tank. Under the adroit directorial hand of Alysia Homminga, Moon School spins a captivating tale in which hard emotional truths and searching self-examination meet sinister school staff and high-stakes board gaming in a setting where (giant) scorpion safety is as important as fire drills.
Alyssa Simon. Photo by Arielle Domantay
Located adjacent to a tract of Georgia woods in which uncanny (and symbolically resonant) danger lurks, The Linda Moon School for Troubled Boys is presided over by its eponymous founder, Linda Moon (Alyssa Simon), assisted by Bruno (Al Groppi), a creepy, intimidating enforcer of order with an unusual origin, and, a kind of counterweight to Bruno, the much more sympathetic Grace (Jackie Kraft), who tries to mitigate the students' poor treatment. Two of those students are Matt (Karl Hawkins), who enjoys writing stories, and Charlie (Hugo Alexander-Rose), the more rebellious of the pair. The only thing that the two feel more strongly about than the board game Laserblast is being around one another, but their plan for a revolt against the school may put their relationship in the most extreme kind of jeopardy. Meanwhile, a man nicknamed Wolfy (Jónel Jones), a novelist struggling to follow up on his successful debut, sets out from his Brooklyn home in the guise of a journalist to return to Moon School, where he himself was a student fifteen years before. On his trip, he meets a woman named Beatrice (Alyssa Simon) whose cryptic pronouncements both lightly suggest her namesake from Dante and belie the importance of her role in what Wolfy will discover not only about Moon School, its staff, and certain of its students, but also about himself, or, more accurately, how his past self continues to haunt his present.
Jackie Kraft and Hugo Alexander-Rose. Photo by Arielle Domantay
Wolfy is by no means the only character in the play whose story explores the way in which past trauma reverberates through and can circumscribe one's life. All of the adults are dogged by certain events in their personal histories and what they did or didn't do about them, and if Bruno isn't, he instead echoes at least one character's father, while for Charlie, the trauma and depression are immediate and ongoing. A subtle spiral motif in the set's backgrounds, which have a great Edward Gorey-esque hand-drawn quality to them, gestures to the endless reliving of trauma, even as Moon School raises the question of how to incorporate traumas in a way that closes the loop on them, to borrow an image from the play. Hawkins affectingly embodies Matt's good-hearted optimism and the nuance of his feelings for Alexander-Rose's vulnerable yet feisty Charlie; Groppi's Bruno is effectively frightening (as well as sometimes funny); and Kraft takes a charismatic turn as the warm but rightly cautious Grace. Jónel Jones makes for a compassionate, complex, and compelling protagonist as Wolfy wrestles with an extremely difficult choice, and Simon is spectacular as both of the very different characters of Linda Moon and Beatrice. Throughout, Victor Jones's live accompaniment on keyboard helps to create and enhance the production's emotional atmosphere and gives Hawkins a stand-out moment when Matt performs a song in the school talent show.
Karl Hawkins and Hugo Alexander-Rose. Photo by Arielle Domantay
Moon School boldly asks what happens if saving and forgiving others aren't always the endpoints in a teleology of trauma. It brings together the mundane and the monstrous in a tightly plotted tale of grief and guilt, repetition and change, love and possibility. In short, don't let even the chance of a scorpion attack keep you away from Moon School.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards


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