It’s impossible to talk about Moonlight After Midnight without discussing structure. On the surface, it’s a show about a man and a woman having a conversation in a hotel room. Simple as that. But what makes the show different is the way in which it rejects a traditional story arc for one that requires a bit more of an explanation. So let’s try to describe what happens on the stage.
The show opens with a man sitting alone in what we soon learn is his hotel room. The stage is practically empty, save for three wooden boxes that serve as the room’s furniture. In walks a woman, and at first the two seem to be each other’s long-lost loves. They can barely bring themselves to look at one another, but then once they finally do and the lights are brought up, the audience experiences the show’s first shift.
Finally face to face, our two characters now act as if they’ve never met. The male lead, played by writer Martin Dockery, questions why this woman has entered his room uninvited, or so we think. Adding another layer to the scene, the mysterious visitor (Vanessa Quesnelle) explains her arrival. She’s a call girl, for lack of a better word, sent to the room and told to pretend to be Dockery’s wife. Dockery is incredulous, telling the woman he’s not the type of guy who would do such a thing. He also stresses that the woman not mention his wife.
So here the audience is faced with a dilemma. Who do we believe? What do we believe? Is this the simple case of a john getting cold feet as his escort arrives? Is it an elaborate role play between the two and the audience just hasn’t been let in on the joke? Or does the woman just have the wrong room? Dockery plays the male lead with a certain nervous energy. His hands alternate between wildly expressive or are pushed deep into his pockets like an awkward teenager. Quesnelle’s performance is more reserved, almost leading you to believe that this is just another day in the office for her character. Neither gives the audience enough of an indication of who is telling the truth, so you’re left to question everything.
Quesnelle tells the man that they only have an hour. Or technically less than an hour now. Dockery hems and haws, but the two finally agree on a little game. He wants her to exit the room, and when she re-enters they’ll pretend that it was love at first sight. As both actors reset to their original marks, the audience hears a familiar music cue — Quesnelle singing Patsy Cline. The lights dim. Quesnelle walks back in, and now the two are strangers falling in love. Or at least they’re pretending to be.
Now this is where the structure of the play sets it apart. Doing away with the traditional story arc — inciting incident leading to confrontation and climax — Moonlight After Midnight instead chooses to layer narrative upon narrative. The two actors go from a call girl and john to love at first sight to newlyweds and so on. With every reset, with every Patsy Cline ballad, we are given another scenario in which two people meet in a room. Quesnelle and Dockery jockey back and forth for who is in control of each scene as their roles continue to change and accumulate. It’s an easy play to get lost in, but that says a lot about relationships. How many times can you enter the same room and have it remain the same? Your newlywed suite becomes the scene of your biggest fight. Your spare bedroom becomes a nursery. You go from stranger to lover to partner and spouse.
Nothing about you really changes. But now you have a role to play. You try to become your idea of what you’re supposed to be. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t. Relationships fall apart. Families become estranged. Passions become jobs. Many times the best you can hope for is to forget, at least for a little while, that any of this is an act. These moments can be fleeting, but so is everything else. Just hold onto them while you can.
I admit that Moonlight After Midnight may leave some cold. As the play continues to circle back in on itself, it’s possible that you’ll get worn out by the repetition, but I think it’s worth exposing yourself to if you’re feeling up to it. You’ll need to go in with plenty of patience and an open mind, but that’s the case with most things. At the very least, you can watch someone else pretend to be a person for a while.
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