Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Lost friendship, rivalry and bourbon: Ages of the Moon

Okay, okay, okay, okay, okay, okay, okay, okay, okay, okay, okay, OKAY!!
Okay so maybe it's a guy thing, but do you remember your first proper best friend? I don't mean someone you just knew and played with in school, I mean the friend you had that you were convinced you'd be best friends forever. You went to the cinema, you went together to matches, you went to parties and nights out, on holidays and for quiet contemplative pints in the pub.

You laughed with them, applauded their triumphs, shared their gains as they did with you. You were unstoppable together, a regular Holmes and Watson, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Asterix and Obelix, Batman and Robin, Bill and Ted, Dastardly and Muttley, Ernie and Bert, Spongebob and Patrick. You were known as friends, you were best friends - everyone could see and admire it.

It wasn't just friendship, it was brothers. You admired each other, encouraged each other and your life was better because they were in it. And you grew older together, heading towards adult and all that involves and you meet each other's partners, you promise to be each other's best men and you may even dance at each other's weddings.

Of course there's arguments. There always is. Misunderstandings, slights, slaggings. Not exactly nice but friendship is also about accepting, ignoring, just going with things and putting the grudges, the judging and the "sins" out of your head. It's knowing someone's faults but loving them anyway for it.

And then something happens. It may be a small thing, it may be a big thing, it may be nothing at all, but the friendship is paused. A new friend or circle is introduced, one that takes up some of the connection time. One of you moves away or gets a shiny new job or attentive partner or start a new chapter in your life. Maybe it's just you forget a birthday or an appointment. You fall out of touch.

It's not a malevolent or vindictive choice - it may not even be a choice. You don't 'do' arguments, you just accept and move on, right? This just falls into one of those things that you keep on meaning to do, but keep on putting it off until you have the time that it needs, the time it deserves.

The longer it goes on the more awkward it is to just pick up the phone or send a text or an email, but sure you know that they know you're thinking about them and if they needed you they knew where you are and sure you can always pick up where you left off, right? That's what friendship is, isn't it?

But as much as it's all well and good there's a bit of bitterness there. Your friend wasn't there for important things. Where before you could divide and conquer the problem, you had to face this one on your own. You didn't need them really, you could have fun without them!

As much as you knew it wasn't anyone's fault the friendship had died, you justify it within by thinking - well if only they'd put in more effort, if they were as much into it as you were. It takes two.

And then you meet up again after time has passed. One of you calls or writes or emails and it's on again. The same opportunity to catch up, to rekindle the fire of friendship, to sit and have a drink and talk. You meet but suddenly, despite the build up, the excitement, the potential to regain what was lost you realise that it's not the same. Every difference that existed between you is magnified, everything you may not have liked but accepted unconditionally becomes an issue.

They're not big matters but they serve to mask or overwhelm the absolute hurt you really feel about their absence as you realise just how much you missed them, how much time you've lost and how ashamed you are for letting it get this far.

So you try talking. Let's talk like we did in the old days, eh? You know when you could sit and talk for hours about anything at all and you'd still have fun, still be interested, still enjoy it. But now you really have nothing to talk about. The words won't come and the ones you choose are just masking the fact that what you had is gone and you both know it. You'll talk about anything so you won't be talking about nothing or even worse, about what is now gone between you. Things are different now and that's not good.

That is what Sam Shepherd's Ages of the Moon made me think about last night.

shot of programme flier for AGES OF THE MOON by Sam Shepard at the Peacock Theatre, Dublin. Photo shows two people looking at the camera - Sean McGinley and Stephen Rea.

Stephen Rea (Ames) and Sean McGinley (Byron) play with considerable skill two friends reunited after a long time apart. Time was they were great friends. Time was they were the Lone Ranger and Tonto, facing the wild west together after a chance encounter on a highway in 1962.

It's now 2007 and Ames has made a mistake. He's messed up his personal life and with nowhere else to turn has run away from it all. Alone with just nature and thoughts he replays the past, finds no escape or resolution and it comes to a drunken phone call to Byron which results in their reunion.
"That's why I'm here, some sort of moral support or something... Long story short, you got yourself into some doggy do do, Mr Frisky." - Byron

It takes a lot of skill for two actors to sit alone on a stage with a minimum of props, a lot of dialogue and a script that demands both silence and awkwardness to be as big a part as the action that follows. The freedom that Jimmy Fay as director gives each actor makes what happens all the more watchable and enthralling.

No dramatic gun-toting, action filled piece this, the true skill of Shepard is the response it provokes in the watcher of this long, slow, pregnant-pause-filled confession of "God I missed you" between two men. "We're not exactly spring colts" admits Byron, the change between them unspoken but increasingly apparent. "Used to be we could talk about anything, the two of us, years ago. There wasn't all this judging" says Ames.

A line about "brimming with guilt and remorse, flooded with regret" spoke more strongly to me than any of the other lines.

Sean McGinley and Stephen Rea stare at the camera.

This play is hard to define. It's not a theatrical "experience", it's not a life changing event, it's not actually all that serious.

Perhaps a more skilful critic could draw themes of contemplation, self-realisation and nobility, which all exist in their own place, but overall it's the decay of people, of opportunity to connect and of time that I left the theatre with. Is it entertaining? I prefer the best of the word 'interesting' to describe it.
"You called me". "I appreciate that" "You'd do the same for me?" "I would. Of course I would!" "Of course I'd never get myself into a jam like this." "WHAT?!"
Whatever Ages of the Moon is not is eclipsed by the opportunity to see two extremely talented and full-of-presence actors push this script and the thoughts of the playwright into your brain, to watch them in an intimate setting and see just how well chosen they are for the roles and how skilfully Shepard has woven this tale around them.

McGinley and Rea are believable - they could well be these two old men trying to recapture youth, slagging and bettering each other, playing to their roles while all the while circling the fact that god damn it, they like and missed each other. Though set in America this could be a typical Irish-or-anywhere story, a warning for friends and a memory of old friendships.

McGinley is seated as Rea stands up, open mouthed, hands on crotch in a still from the play

If you do see this, be prepared for the surprising and unexpected emotions brought about by McGinley's soliloquy on recent events in his character's life.

The contrast portrayed here between his thus far steady and quiet mannered presence (compared to Rea's manic and attention seeking one) and the tender, romantic eloquence in which he describes his own despondency, his journey back to his friend, his shock at seeing "the grey, the shoulders stooped, the eyes sunken deep inside the ragged fleshy masks" is so stark, so piteous that just those few simple lines and the incredible story it contains makes the slow build up worth it. Gone is the bitterness, the disputes, the grudges and petty jealousies.

This is what friendship should be about. Connection. Presence. Sharing. Just people, people on a planet with one sun and one big, old moon.

photo shows silhouette of man in an open doorway of a dark room overlooking a scenic, cloud filled landscape with the text to one side reading Funny isn't it, I never could've imagined I'd be out here like this. Some strange state. How's you wind up out here anyway? Middle of some night - some moon - Where the hell are we supposed to be?

Ages of the Moon is on in the Peacock Theatre, Dublin 1 until April 4 - you'll find more information here. Show time is 8pm and tickets are €22 or €18 for Saturday Matinees. There's a sign language interpreted performance on Saturday 21 March 2.30pm and an excellent opportunity to see both actors in conversation on Thursday 26 March after the show.

A big thank you to David at the Abbey for arranging the tickets and to Colm Hogan for the use of the photos.


  1. Definitely not just a guy thing.

  2. Ken: Thanks Ken - actually very much enjoyed writing it.

    Emma: Good to know! Just struck me that it might be :)

  3. Lovely stuff D xx

  4. sounds good, nice casting too.

    is it touring?

  5. I loved your post Darragh!
    You managed to capture my complete thoughts about friendship throughout the post.

    While I was reading, I was like to myself; Wow. This guy is so right! Everything he is saying, is what I've ALWAYS thought.

    Thanks man. I really enjoyed reading :)

  6. See, when I do read your blog I read right back :P

    I really liked this and it's not just guys, I was thinking of an exact person (girl) while I read it.