A wooden chair, really the only prop onstage in Martin Dockery’s Moonlight After Midnight, is also the only thing in this mind-bending play that actually remains what it seems from the first. A woman (Vanessa Quesnelle) walks into the hotel room of a man (Martin Dockery). After a tense exchange that suggests that they know and love each other, the lights are turned up, and the woman claims that she has been sent by the "service" that she works for. The man denies that he made the call. She says the caller wanted her to roleplay his wife. He says not to mention his wife. He does, however, acquiesce to her demand that he pay her for her time in any case, paving the way for an encounter during which we never learn either of their names, but which qualifies as a journey of discovery nonetheless, one in which their roleplaying continually reboots.
The man has been using the aforementioned wooden chair to observe a comet, which is only visible for an hour, mirroring the hour-long limit on his rendezvous with the mystery woman. This celestial anomaly will return, having passed around the sun, in exactly 10 years and then disappear forever. As a symbol, the comet encapsulates the man’s lack of belief that anything can endure. According to him, everything, including love, has its ending built into its beginning. The woman, as someone who specializes in creating moments -- specifically, as she says, meaningful moments -- pushes back with a less fatalistic view.
In the beginning, the characters’ seeming misunderstanding rapidly turns meta-theatrical. The woman, who says that her job often involves role-playing to allow people to express or work through things that they otherwise couldn’t, replays her entrance, tries to get her companion to establish their characters and to describe the setting, and even acts out the part of a non-existent radio playing sad Patsy Cline love songs. Role-playing, here, though, is far from straightforward, and increasingly takes on multiple dimensions of meaning. Along the way, Moonlight considers the idea of performance not just in but as one’s self and life. Is it the case that only an audience makes reality real, as Quesnelle's character, or her character's character, at one point asserts? (And can a person be both actor and his own audience, as she tells the man in the same conversation that he is?) Who exactly these two people are is central as both a literal and an existential question. This is not to say that the characters become ciphers; despite all of the shifting performativity, their interplay retains a grounded emotional core. Dockery and Quesnelle move adroitly through shifts in tone as their characters both tease and tease admissions from one another in sharp, often fast-paced and funny dialogue. Never quite touching one another, the actors generate tension and longing in a series of distinct but overlapping demanding roles.
Moonlight After Midnight keeps the audience wonderfully off-balance. It refuses stability, and its exchanges almost always function on two levels, doubling their referents and calling into question what the audience thinks it knows. (Even the fact that Dockery and Quesnelle mime actions instead of using props permits one to question almost everything -- to take a small example, if the “radio” is a piece of stage improvisation, does he actually even pay her in the beginning? Is the money invisible to us as the audience, or does it not exist? Or is that too binary a question?) One resolution that the play does offer is a final, fraught turn that we won’t spoil here. Equal parts fun and compelling, Moonlight after Midnight will leave you thinking. - Leah Richards & John Ziegler
Dr. Richards is an English professor in NYC, and spends her free time raising three cats and smashing the patriarchy.
When not writing reviews, Dr. Ziegler spends a lot of his time being an Assistant Professor of English in NYC and playing guitar in a death metal band.