16th Street Theater ends its run with the thoughtful “Man and Moon”

Berwyn’s 16th Street Theater, an institution that has lasted fifteen years, announced on Monday that its new production, Man and Moon, would be its last. Prior to this announcement, I had the chance to speak with both the playwright, Siena Marilyn Ledger, and the director of this production, Hayley Procacci, about what they believe makes it a good choice at this time.

Man and Moon, which I will be reviewing later this week, takes place in the waiting room of an oncology wing at a hospital in which Aaron, a transman, is quietly taking stock of his life while waiting to receive chemo for breast cancer. He is not alone: with him every day is a young girl named Luna whose mother is also receiving treatment. The two of them, prodded by the impetuous and naturally loquacious Luna, strike up an unlikely friendship in which each learns from the other about the changes, wanted or unwanted, that the universe has in store for us all.

Ledger (they/them) says that the idea for the play developed when they were still in college. Their friend Kat Peterson’s mother had struggled with breast cancer, and the two friends kicked around the notion of collaborating on a one-act play about the subject.

“I’ve always had this super huge fear surrounding cancer, and I still do,” they told me. “I mean, to this day it’s still the scariest thing I think exists to me. I think there’s a juxtaposition there in our friendship and how this was created to evoke how you can find peace with something that’s really hard to cope with. Which is really a lot of life, but definitely that in different ways.”

To research the play, they visited support groups, and Ledger says that “something that we noticed right away is how centric around the idea, the culture of a woman” all the discussion was. And though Ledger understood why—”it is targeting femininity in the way it has to do with the breast”—they and Peterson also understood that “this is something that affects more than just women.”

“You know, being both nonbinary, we felt like there was something missing to that story needing to be told. Like someone going through this who isn’t attached to necessarily the idea of femininity, but this is still affecting those aspects of them.”

The character of Aaron has transitioned and, he hopes, left the “girl” he once was behind, but cancer simply doesn’t care about things like that, which leaves him in this awful and ironic position. When someone reads that about the play, they might be forgiven for assuming that it is a downer, but it isn’t. It pretty much sparkles, thanks to the character of Luna, a girl named after the moon who has basically immersed herself in facts and information—and her own often wild theories—about space.

Procacci (she/they), in publicity materials, says that “Ledger breathes comedic wit and childlike wonder” into the play, and they are right: Luna makes this play something unique and alive, and she manages to do that with Aaron as well.

“What I love about the show is that it really does just defy gender…like stripping that down and looking at just the humanity of the person… They sit in this oncology waiting room… That’s something we’ve reflected in the set, just like women’s magazines, all women and all of the things, even though men get breast cancer, too. And also it stretches beyond the binary of man and woman who get breast cancer.”

Both Aaron and Luna face changes in their bodies that are beyond their control. But it is the child who, interestingly, becomes the audience’s surrogate. Perhaps it’s because everyone has gone through puberty (at least once), but not all of us are transgender or cancer patients.

“Luna, the 12-year-old little girl, is going through changes in her body, though it’s met with just this graciousness from this transmasculine man who is right there saying, hey, none of you has changed. This is just what happened. And it doesn’t have to be for any reason and it doesn’t have to make you different.”

Luna, of course, thinks about it in terms of space.

Ledger says, “I think (Luna) thinks she’s on all the time, (giving) a little Ted Talk about these great important things that everyone must remember. I think what’s lovely about Luna is she doesn’t have a huge grasp on every single concept of space but she has just enough, and enough wonderment (about) something that is out there and not really within her ability to control…as opposed to like you’re here with her mother now and because it is personal, (she thinks,) I should be able to do something about this but I can’t.”

Procacci tells her cast that Luna doesn’t even know how wise her words are, “but she says things to him and, and he kind of, you know, grows. He’s very introverted at the beginning and very Get out! and this kid just rocks his world. Not to make a space analogy, but for all the gravity he had walking into the room, he is weightless by the end despite how sick he’s getting.”

When I compliment them on the analogy, Procacci says, “Yeah. We use ’em all the time in rehearsal.”

Luna would be proud.

Man and Moon is now playing at Madison Street Theater, 1010 Madison Street in Oak Park.

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