Brooke Ivey Johnson, Depression, Edinburgh Fringe, Karin Hoelzl, Melancholy., Mental Illness, Miles Millikan, Moon Walk by Brooke Ivey Johnson, Sean Bannon, Spaces on North Bridge, Sprutt Theatre, Theatre Review
[The following contains spoilers.]
Sprutt Theater are from Emerson College in Boston and their new play “Moon Walk,” by Brooke Ivey Johnson, is currently showing at the Space on North Bridge. Regular theatregoers at the Fringe will find its story to be as familiar by now as the plastic seating. The central character Sam (Sean Bannon) is a writer who lives in a flatshare and suffers from depression. Perhaps the best argument for reintroducing compulsory military service for all young people across the Western world is that first-time playwrights will have more to observe and write about than being depressed in a flat.
Still, the banter is always good in this sort of play. The audience enjoy the banter and they sit dutifully through the depression. The depression is certainly captured with a beady eye and in a flowing hand. You gain a realistic sense of how Sam is only ever using humour to fortify the neutral, casual conversational ground that he is trying to cling on to. Alex (Miles Millikan) attempts to pester Sam out of his depression and you acutely feel Sam’s pain at having to engage with him. Alex seems to peck at Sam’s face like a bird and Sam is too weary or passive to effectively react.
The acting and writing here work hard enough to make “Moon Walk” tenable as a companion piece to “Numbers,” another vivid student drama about depression at this year’s Fringe. Yet “Moon Walk” courts danger with the arrival of Rowan (Karin Hoelzl), a third new flatmate who appears to come innately equipped with the knowhow to rescue Sam. The girlfriend in “Numbers” had been similarly angelic, but she was already in a relationship with the depressed protagonist. She had no humane option but to minister to him. I distrust Rowan’s character in “Moon Walk,” though, or I am wary of the idea that women such as this are more emotionally practical or wiser in their souls.
The play quickly heads off the alarming idea that Rowan and Sam can defeat the depression through lovemaking. But she is otherwise a votary who is always lighting candles around his fragile ego. It is also implied that she performs an equivalent function for Alex, who had lost a younger sister to suicide. She is a like-for-like replacement, but to both men she is more important as an emotional catalyst. She will help them to throw open the doors, unpack all of their secrets and air every innermost chamber, with all of the hygienic thoroughness of the modern American therapeutic method.
I had put down a spoiler warning earlier, but please stop here if you really don’t want to see what happens behind the scenes on the farm. For it eventually turns out that “Moon Walk” is a play within a play. It confesses to being autobiographical or even the writing in the notebook that Sam is periodically seen scribbling in. When Rowan reads from Sam’s notebook, she could be very well reading the words that she is meant to say at this point in the play, just as two opposing mirrors can create an illusion of infinite mirrors. Nonetheless, Rowan is here revealed to be only a fantasy or a device to help Sam work through his depression in his mind.
So perhaps the exact usefulness of the therapeutic method is being queried here. Do we prefer the ending in which the two men are sobbing and disburthened? Or do we prefer the coldness of Sam remaining friendless and having to eke out some lonely relief by writing a play? The latter feels somehow superior or like the more authentic outcome, not least because it includes us, who are presently watching it.