I Am a Moon by Zhu Yi directed by Marios Theocharous was part of The Seventeenth Annual New York International Fringe Festival, The play, which has been acted in English and Chinese in festivals from Edinburgh to Nanjing, China was presented at the Lynn Redgrave Theater. I Am A Moon is tangentially inspired by the life of legendary Japanese porn star, Ai Iijima.
The playwright was born and raised in China and has a varied background in theater and film, having entered her work in a number of international festivals in both genres. She is a 2013-2013 Emerging Artist Fellow at the New York Theatre Workshop.
Clearly, Zhu Yi’s I Am A Moon reflects her poetic sensibilities and wide-ranging talents. The play is an innovative piece in which six characters relate their experiences en medias res, explaining their deep personal issues and angst about their identities. One notion the play explores is the different ways Eastern and Western cultures try to create beauty and sexuality despite personal shame: the shame of being overweight, the shame of liberated sexuality, the shame of physical disability, the shame of physical scars, the shame of being a victim of sexual harassment and the shame/fear of aging.
After each of the characters relates his/her interior life and personal issues, the action swings into confrontation. Zhu Yi brings the various individuals together through happenstance, often with comic results. The playwright uses the image of the moon as a symbolic thread throughout, reflecting both Eastern and Western perspectives. Our current scientific understanding is shown from the viewpoint of an astronaut in space (Ariel Estrada). He is interviewed via radio from Earth by a radio host (Maja Wampusyc) who asks him factual information about the moon.
The moon is also seen through the romantic lens of Chinese mythology. The myth of how and why the Empress flew away to the moon and found her paradise is woven into the characters’ narrative streams. By the end of the play, we understand how each of their identities reflects the themes presented in the myth and how they achieve (perhaps with the Empress of the Moon’s help) a potential paradise on Earth as they discover their true identities beyond the shame that has been holding them back.
The monologues of The Man (Kurt Uy) and Angela (Victoria Tucci) introduce the platform for the rest of the characters and prepare the audience for the structure that follows. Whether it was the acting, direction, lack of character movement (the actors spoke directly to the audience for most of this section), or the drawn-out revelations, the pacing through this segment was slower. This suggests that perhaps cuts need to be made in both monologues, or more insightful direction and movement need to be incorporated to create a vivid portrayal of both characters. Later on when Angela confronts The Man during the elevator scenes, their interactions were humorous, interesting and poignant, erasing the doldrums of their initial presentation. They became alive, believable and human. The initial scenes could have used tweaking to adhere seamlessly to the rest of the play and to intensify their characters’ humanity throughout.
By comparison, the introductory monologue of Justin, the rock star played by Seth Moore, was dynamic. His vivid portrayal was natural and believable, not only in the beginning scene when he delivers his monologue to the audience, but especially in the scenes where he is with Angela and later with his partner. The pacing during his initial monologue flew, perhaps because it was spiked with movement and tasks completely appropriate for his character.
Seth Moore was a standout and a joy to watch as was Wei-Yi Lin (as Mei) and Ariel Estrada (as Jimmy, Mei’s husband). The last two actors were natural and unconstrained portraying the simple down-to-earth fruit vendor, Mei, and Jimmy, who soulfully relates the incident when he first fell in love with Mei. Whether it was because of the direction, precise editing in this section, or the actors’ demonstrated talent, the scenes involving Mei and Jimmy popped.
Once the beginning monologues were completed, the ensemble of actors portrayed individuals we were able to empathize with and care for. Their fine acting helped to reinforce the concept that we, too, like the Empress of the Moon, long for a paradise on this Earth. In that paradise we hope to manifest our real identity without fear, and thus be authentically loved.