'Lunar Labyrinth' Amazes

If caressing the audience is a vital part of a production, an ideal space to put up the play is the OBERON. A production that relies on mood whiplash—drastic 180-degree shifts in tone—to effect the feeling of losing one’s memory could use the space well. And a play that needs to put something on a pedestal could definitely make use of the air straight above the drink-clutching audience members, as well as using tables, balconies, and staircases to give characters brief spotlights. Thankfully, “Lunar Labyrinth,” which played for one night on February 13, uses the space’s advantages to its ultimate potential. Based on a short story by Neil Gaiman, the production’s superb use of sound and space ended up transforming the original short story from its urban-legend Americana into a play that does its best when imagining the grand, epic mythologies of what attracted that wanderer to climb up to the Labyrinth in the first place.

Plot-wise, the wanderer (Phil Berman) takes a respite from walking the Earth to visit a local attraction called the Lunar Labyrinth, which is rumored to cure illness if correctly navigated under the full moon’s light. The script adaptation of Gaiman’s story patches together different local legends—woman who gives birth to a monster, children and couples drawn to the moon, the requisite coyotes—all whimsically told by a hobbling, eccentric guide (John J. King). With classic Gaiman-esque comedy that suggests cliché only to revile it, King says, “You’ll see how it lies when we get to the top of the hill”—“How does it lie?”—“At the top of the hill.”

While the short story—printed out and dimly lit for the audience’s enjoyment outside of the main room—had more of a dusky, “Twilight Zone” mood and focused on building suspense between guide and wanderer, the play doesn’t buy into the same strategy. Rather than building up anecdotes to culminate in spine-chilling fear, the best scenes of “Lunar Labyrinth” are those with the emphasis placed on the epic, with wanderer and guide changing from amused conversationalists to classical guide and wanderer tropes backed up by a Greek chorus of supporting actors. A surprisingly serious version of “Lux Aeterna” scores the most memorable of the scenes, and the decision to cast the lunar protagonist (Eileen Little) as an aerialist who can sashay her way up silks to the ceiling goes a long way in effecting the crippling fascination with the moon most of the characters share. The less successful scenes are the fear-based ones, like a particularly gruesome birth scene reminiscent of the alien-from-human-womb scene in last year’s film “Prometheus,” a confusing choice that might have been a bit too heavy-handed. In fact, the fear present in Gaiman’s story is often mocked with segues in the tone of old monster flick “It’s Alive!” moments, and a weird replay of the birth scene with the mother singing as in a jazz cabaret.

At the play and story’s end, the protagonist is left alone at the maze’s entrance. Granted, given the comical treatment of fear preceding this climax, it would have been more appropriate for him to hear Admiral Ackbar’s famous proclamation, “It’s a trap,” rather than the disembodied, growling “Run” he hears. However, the final moments of the play come with a big reveal for the audience milling around with cocktail in hand; alcohol is necessary for the audience to feel less uncomfortable as actors in powdered face and ripped white clothing fondle them. Even though the adaptation from story to performance chose to develop the pure epic and mythological moments rather than the dark, more dust-swept Americana folklore at which Gaiman excels, it was ultimately nicest to see an “aha” moment that was so unexpected—we’re talking on the level of Low-Key Lyesmith’s reveal in “American Gods.” The unpredictable ending tied the whole production together; it is apparent that “Lunar Labyrinth” shot for the moon and landed among the stars.

—Staff writer Christine A. Hurd can be reached at churd@college.harvard.edu.

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