Beginning Friday, Feb. 26, local arts collective Meow Wolf redefined the possibilities of live theater in Santa Fe with its original multimedia production titled The Moon Is to Live On. A six-performance, two weekend residence (plus one impromptu show on Thursday, March 4) at Warehouse 21 played to deservedly sold-out audiences for the duration of the show’s run.
Writer/executive producer Vince Kadlubek and director Megan Burns are just two of many vital pieces of this magnificently crafted hearttugging and mind-bending work, which incorporates live performance, recorded video, live-and live-looped handheld video, classic black-box and experimental lighting, dance, and a sophisticated interplay of highly conceptual costumes and set designs.
The story initially orbits around 30-ish Old Spice employee Robert Davis (David Loughridge), a married working hump who— during and after a series of psychedelic and semi-prophetic dreams— begins to collapse under the weight of his own dissatisfaction with life. An unstable marriage to Caroline (Bree Merkwan) and the introduction of a new and beautiful intern named Summer (Amelia Stickney) at the Old Spice office ramps up the homebound tension, which thankfully never descends into domestic-strife parody— real housewives watching their biological clocks tick must also be prone to screaming at their flower beds. Joey, Steve’s friend and work colleague (Sean Di Ianni), wavers between the role of confidant and suicidal basket case and, while he serves as a gold mine of tragic cause and effect, Joey also accounts for the bulk of Moon’s comic relief.
A secondary plotline involving Summer’s “mentor” (played expertly by Kelly McDowell, a calming presence among so much audiovisual mayhem) explores themes of personal transformation and the allure of escaping the plane of material existence— thus, perhaps, the play’s title.
The magic of Moon lies in Kadlubek and company’s ability to stretch a common swath of adult psychological fabric (growing older, searching for meaning, feeling creatively suffocated within the workaday culture) far beyond a few walls and a stage. When presented with so much material for the eyes and ears— black lights, fog machines, LCD screens, rotating sets, “Rainbow Symphony” kaleidoscope glasses, overhead projection, and illuminated masks— one may wonder, initially, whether all this extra window dressing is designed to compensate for a weak script. That’s not the case. Kadlubek’s writing and his actors’ delivery are superb across the board— although the subject matter is a bit removed from the worldview of younger teen audiences, and the show runs a bit too long (just over 165 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission).
What makes Moon one of the most important pieces of local theater Santa Fe has seen in years, besides its ability to leave its audience either speechless or in tears, is the collaborative effort among multiple artistic disciplines that went into making the production a seamless and seemingly effortless affair. The debut run of The Moon Is to Live On has ended. But in a perfect example of life imitating art imitating life, Meow Wolf continues its pursuit of uncompromising creative expression in defiance of the dull repetition of the workaday world.