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'Live from the Surface of the Moon' is Live from 1969

Stable Cable Lab Co. presents a tale of gender and culture wars straight from the ’60s suburbs.

Photos by Sara Watson

Live from the Surface of the Moon is the story of a group of average Americans in the 1960s—and the point at which that facade cracks. Far from the hip 20-something war protesters we generally see associated with the era, Max Baker's play is about the suburbs, new parents and everyday life. But that does not mean that this version of the '60s is anything resembling tame.

Instead, Stable Cable Lab Co.'s new production is a fascinating drama of gender politics, played out in such an oblique manner that it is clear this is as far as respectable society 50 years ago is willing to go. Alternating between moments of friendly humor and immense discomfort, this play takes us for a far rockier ride than the moon landing the characters are watching on TV. Idealized domesticity meets second-wave feminism, and traditional "family values" are turned on their head.

We open on a domestic scene in which things are already going awry. Don, the proud middle-class man who supports his family from the wages earned as an ice cream truck driver, has a stain on his pants, and the only person who can fix it is his extremely pregnant wife Carol, who is already juggling a dinner party and a father so stricken with dementia that he no longer remembers who she is. Add to the mix their friends Wendell, a ladies' man hip to all the lingo of the cool young kids, and his wife June, women's rights advocate to her bones.

And then there's Holly. The young woman being vetted for the role of Carol's babysitter, Holly is simple, romantic and more than a little odd. In many ways the most "modern" of the group, we see much of the play through her eyes as the drama of the two couples plays out. As she tries to make a connection with the loud personalities at the moon landing party, we recognize how out of her depth she is...and how easily she can be taken advantage of.

In this charged environment, every domestic interaction becomes imbued with intense meaning. Every time Don has to take care of some of the cooking or cleaning for his pregnant wife, he grows more angry and out of control, while trying to take care of Carol's mentally absent father Joe simply frustrates everyone. Meanwhile, June champions her women's group, the Pill and feminist myth-busting, even as her activism fails to penetrate the deep layer of misogyny and even danger that permeates her society.

Each character adds something unique to the mix. Ian Patrick Poake as Don is the entitled white man who gets angry at people who don't respect America, while Kate Garfield as his wife Carol is as charming and relatable as she turns out to be shallow and unforgiving. You can't help cheering for Breanna Foister's June, even as her new political beliefs begin to prove hollow.

And then there are the darker elements. Brian Edelman plays Wendell with finesse, the right degree of happy-go-lucky and clueless that masks a truly sinister interior. Lisa Anderson's Holly is more pitiable than anything else, her instability and oddness keeping her from vanishing entirely into victimhood. And possibly the most vital performance in the whole show is that of Kevin Gilmartin's elderly Joe, who even though he maintains a confused silence for much of the action has a strength and passion for his late wife (whom he mistakes Holly to be) that constantly turns the tables on them all.

The strength of Live from the Surface of the Moon lies in its ambiguity. Don's constantly referenced "us" changes meanings at will to encompass all Americans, supporters of a particular sports team, men, the able-bodied or whatever privileged party he wants to designate "normal" in opposition to an alien other. We never get to see the moon landing, nor the stroke of midnight during the New Years' party of the second act. And how much don't we see of what happens between Wendell and Holly?

Odd, jarring and often emotionally unresolved, this is a play that makes you think. How far have we come since 1969, and how much are we still just as dark and as flawed? It will lull you into complacency with its charming '60s costumes and decor and in the same breath openly mock the disabled workers at a neighborhood grocery store.

It may not have much to do with astronauts, but Live from the Surface of the Moon is certainly out of this world.

Live from the Surface of the Moon plays at the Wild Project through April 11.

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