PerformInk is Chicago's entertainment industry trade publication.
By Naima Dawson
Children of single-parent homes always want to know why they are not privy to a life with both parents under one roof. Not knowing the identity of an absent parent never really settles well with any child, even if they learn to cope with the pain and the feeling of displacement.
Definition Theatre Company’s MOON MAN WALK, by James Ijames, takes us on an exploration that teeters between the active imagination of a child and the realm of reality molded by adults. It explores the upbringing of Monarch (Debo Balogun), who is a “man-child.” an epithet that is assigned to grown men who never leave child-like behavior behind as an adult. When we first see Monarch, he is an adult working as a librarian, seemingly quite knowledgeable about books. He was raised by his single mother (Shadana Patterson), who provides him with the best possible life, without the presence of a father. The play moves backward and forward in time through Monarch’s life as a child to present day.
At an early age Monarch questions his mom about the existence of his father. Instead of giving him the truth, she creates one big adventurous lie rooted in a world of make-believe. She tells him that his father is an astronaut who was left behind to roam the great wonders of the moon. Even at a young age, Monarch didn’t fully believe his mother’s story. His mother didn’t anticipate that children grow up and become more anxious for the truth about who they are. In hiding the truth about his father, she unknowingly created a litany of other issues her son would have to conquer as an adult.
Children do not get to pick their parents or their life circumstances. There are those who believe that concealing the truth from a child is better than explaining the fact that sometimes adults get things wrong. Dishonesty always comes with great consequences, and believe it or not, children are quite resilient human beings. Sometimes, adults never give children the credit they deserve. They are curious thinkers, natural detectives who are continuously in search of answers.
MOON MAN WALK uses its minimalist set design to articulate time and space to great effect, forcing us to use our imagination as the cast takes us on this journey. The talented actors do a remarkable job in weaving in multiple characters throughout the play.
Where improvement is needed is in the pacing of the story and characterizations. A relationship between Monarch and a love interest lacks believability, and the mother flips between emotional extremes that are questionable, for example.
In spite of few areas that need further fleshing out, there is a meaningful story being told here that holds great significance. This play is a great opportunity for families with single and absentee parents to reflect on such a sensitive topic and begin a healthy path towards healing, if needed. It is also a play that brings forth discussion on a community level about children who yearn for the truth about parents they have never known, as they move towards their own self-discovery.