There is a good story within Moth’s eighty minutes, and director Tom Story and his two-actor cast tell it in bold, powerful strokes. It is a story of compassion, bullying, and betrayal, and the moment of truth hits with the impact of a Manny Pacquiao body punch.
Regrettably, playwright Declan Green has swaddled it in a grandiose, hallucinatory half-myth, and by so doing diffuses it and takes away its potency.
Sebastian (David Nate Goldman) is a born victim – a 10th-grader who is intimidated by 7th-graders. He is slender and weak and afflicted with some illness which causes him to spit up blood. He is a natural target for the school ’s überbully, Clinton (voiced by Allie Villarreal) and his band of predators.
Clinton recognizes that not only is Sebastian weak and despised, but that he has a pathetic need for acceptance. Thus Clinton layers his bullying with a sneer of affection which everyone but the desperate Sebastian knows for what it is. (“I have terrible aim,” Clinton says, after pelting Sebastian with a tuna fish sandwich. “I was aiming for the garbage can. We good, bro?” “We good,” Sebastian replies, smiling brightly.)
His defender is Claryssa (Villarreal), another school outcast. Claryssa is a young woman of size with a powerful physique. She beats up the other girls and will beat you up if you cross her. Claryssa, like Sebastian, is despised by her classmates, but also feared, as Sebastian is not. “She’s a psycho,” one of her classmates says, and Claryssa does not argue with her.
There is a confrontation, a defilement, a moment of horror, and…look, you know where this is going, don’t you? Well, not exactly. Sebastian is too sweet, too submissive to explode in Klebold-style revenge rage. Thus Green is obliged to conjure up a ferocious St. Sebastian (in real life, a martyr who was shot full of arrows and then clubbed to death), a moth inexplicably turning up in a jar on his desk, moths outside, a hideous one-eyed preacher, and an apocalyptic mission in order to move his story along. In the meantime the stolid Claryssa tunnels into a five-mile-deep cave, reachable only by a talking moon. These magic tricks pave the way for the story’s explosive climax.
There’s nothing wrong with magic, or even madness, but in my view the playwright has to earn it. Green doesn’t. Why St. Sebastian, instead of, say, St. John of the Cross? And if it is because it is his namesake, why not the real St. Sebastian, instead of this ninety-foot robot monster? And if St. Sebastian is really on the way to scour the earth of evildoers, why does Sebastian have to do anything? And who are those freaks in the pool hall Sebastian stumbles into?
Closes May 4, 2014
Studio Theatre 2ndStage
1501 14th St. NW
1 hour, 20 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: $20 – $35
Wednesdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
Goldman and Villarreal are at every moment the characters they inhabit, and they inhabit a lot of them. Goldman, when he is not playing Sebastian, tends to be Sebastian playing the character he selects (such as the talking moon); Villarreal is about half-and-half – playing, for example, Sebastian’s mother as Claryssa but playing Clinton as Clinton. This sort of acting requires great discernment, so as not to get us all confused, and Goldman and Villareal are aces at it.
Well. I prize a plot line that, if not pellucid, I can at least figure out at the end. This is not it, and so I was not in love with this play. If this part of the theatergoing experience is not as important to you, though, you might enjoy Moth more than I did.
Moth, by Declan Green, directed by Tom Story, assisted by Elena Day, who served as movement director. Featuring David Nate Goldman and Allie Villarreal. Set and lighting design by Colin K. Bills, costume design by Brandee Mathias, sound design by James Bigbee Garver, projections design by Mimi d’autremont. Alicia Sells was the stage manager. Produced by Studio Theatre 2ndStage . Reviewed by Tim Treanor.
Jennifer Perry . BroadwayWorld
Chris Klimek . City Paper
Peter Marks . Washington Post
Roger Catlin . MDTheatreGuide
John Stoltenberg . MagicTime!
Missy Frederick . Washingtonian
David Friscic . DCMetroTheaterArts