Review for LIKE KISSING MOONLIGHT, Mesquite Arts Theatre

Like Kissing Moonlight

Written and Directed by Stacey Upton Bracey

Reviewed by Natalie Shaw, Dallas Theatre Journal

In Northeastern Oklahoma, there are twelve acres of land sitting, wide open, but surrounded by tall trees and deep woods. In total, there are roughly 65 acres of land (maybe more) that was bought and paid for by my great- grandfather somewhere around the 1930s. Each of his children inherited twelve acres, and, my grandmother, being the first-born, got first pick on what land she wanted. Naturally, she chose the most beautiful strip. She and my grandfather settled there and retired early, after their kids were into their young adulthood. This is where I cut my teeth, so to speak. Several times a year, nearly once a month, my parents, sister and I showed up to play among the cousins, catch bugs outside, ride the horses, feed the cows and hunt for squirrels in the woods. Specifically, I can remember sitting in my grandparents' church one Sunday morning and pulling a huge tick off the nape of my neck-- a consequence of playing in the woods the day before. I didn't live in this area of Oklahoma, but this is where I grew up. My grandparents have since passed away, but the acreage has always stayed in the family. Today, as I write this, my own parents live in that very house, (an updated and renovated version of it) on that very land, and attend that same church. Depending on the decisions that my sister makes for her future, I will inherit half or all of it--I can keep it, or I can sell it. There's something about owning property, though--it's just earth, but it's everything. In many cases throughout history, it's what separated the free from the enslaved; the wealthy from the poor. For me, this portion of Oklahoma is layered with memories of loud family gatherings and peaceful isolation; swimming in the lake and Thanksgiving dinners; front porch conversations and back porch barbecues; weddings and funerals; food and love. This wide open space surrounded by tall trees is etched in our souls and it runs in our blood. Why would I ever sell it?

Like Kissing Moonlight explores the deep roots of family, love, and endurance in both. Our story begins with Berry Lee (played by Bethany Brown) who lives with her elderly mother, whose final days are upon her, her older brother Dale Lee (played by David Colville) and her adopted daughter, June Nave (played by Hannah Beltran.) Berry, has almost solely cared for her dying mother, while Dale courts the future Mrs. Lee-- Crystal Grant (played by Bryn Hottman.) Meanwhile, her older sister, Monica Lee (played by Jacque Marshall) lives miles away in Los Angeles and June remains silent following the traumatic death of her own birth family. The family fort is surrounded by several acres of orchard in modern-day Appalachia and, for Berry, this is all she knows or has experienced--perhaps in a long time, perhaps in her entire life. For the Lee Family, some big questions arise: what will happen when mother is no longer with them? What will happen to Berry, (and June, for that matter!) if her brother marries? The house is a comfortable size, but this isn't Downtown Abbey, there is no West Wing to reside in! The land is covered in orchard, and, consequently, we learn that it, too, may be lost. 

What stands out to me most of all about Like Kissing Moonlight, is the narrative and the overall story-line. Stacy Upton Bracey gives us a hearty drama to chew on, leaving us with something that we will turn over and over in our minds upon leaving the theater. I'm still processing what took place! It is unforgettable; a story whose ending will play out multiple ways every time it comes to memory. The characters are as dynamic as the actors portraying them: progressive, complex and absolutely relatable. Each one plays a vital role in the story itself, and each one reveals compelling growth and wisdom as the narrative transitions. In the production's playbill, Ms. Upton Bracey discloses that, "Those of you who are theatrically-minded will recognize it as a modern-day mash up of Russian playwright Anton Chekov's works: The Cherry Orchard and Three Sisters." Perhaps this is one of the many reasons why this play has resonated with me. The first character I performed as a Theatre major in college was Dunyasha in The Cherry Orchard, directed by the sensational Kevin Otos. Kevin introduced me to Chekhov, who has a remarkable manner in the telling of the human story, especially about life and love; family and the ties that bind them. Today, we encounter several modern stories on television, in novels and onstage which play out in a highly predictable fashion and drip with sentiment--fluffy fiction, if you will. And, this genre has its place in the world, but we often know how the plot will resolve, simply because we've experienced the process many times. Occasionally, though, we are able to relish in being surprised when the plot takes a few turns in directions that we didn't predict. Ms. Upton Bracey's creation, Like Kissing Moonlight is something that we can really sink our teeth into. 

Indeed, this is a drama, and the drama certainly unfolds, but the comedic relief, especially through characters such as Euphazine Lindsor (played by Audrey Medrano) and Talton Demerest (played by Dennis H. Guillon) is witty, spunky and downright hysterical. Ms. Medrano leaves us wishing for her return after Act 1. Not only is her superstitious, psychic character written with depth and humor, Ms. Medrano brings a level of energy and physical comedy that will both ambush you and have you cheering her on. This character does not mess around, and you better not fool with her! In Act 2, Ms. Medrano grasps Euphaszine's fiery temperament and softens it by defining her character's mental strength and influencing those around her in a more tranquil manner. Mr. Guillon is no stranger to the stage himself, he is a skilled veteran through-and- through. Similarly, his physical animation and electric intensity will have you laughing in uproar. Initially, he is a deceiver who masters in manipulation, much like the used car salesman who can sell any jalopy to a poor, ignorant chump. Mr. Guillon displays a full-on transformation of character when Talton's desires bend from the responsibilities of his work life to the heartfelt pleasures of his personal life. His scheming nature evolves into genuine regard for others, especially Berry, and Mr. Guillon guides a most beautiful renewal of Talton's spirit, allowing us to grow increasingly fond of him. To much relief, Euphazine and Talton both break down barriers that expose their softer, more spiritual side, which is just as delightful as the hype they previously showcased. 

Like Kissing Moonlight is over-the-moon exceptional! It is thought-provoking, intellectually driven and emotionally moving. We are so lucky to have this play, right now in Dallas-Fort Worth! You will surely never forget it, but if you miss it, you will likely regret it! Better get your seats--they are selling fast and selling out! Appropriate for ages 14 and up. Accessible seating available. 

Tickets are $18 for Adults, $15 for seniors and $10 for children Tickets available at Like Kissing Moonlight runs now through June 26th. 

Bring a sweater or a jacket, the theater is a bit chilly. 

Y'all enjoy!

Natalie Shaw