For its final show, 16th Street Theatre produces the beautiful and emotional Man and Moon

(photo by Glenn Felix Willoughby)

It’s always a joy to discover a new play that is lovely, entertaining, and thoughtful, and when that play blends universal issues with modern social realities, well, it’s worth the more than an hour’s stop-and-go journey on Chicago’s overcrowded surface streets to get to see it. Man and Moon, an absolutely beautiful two-hander from Siena Marilyn Ledger, is an emotional and poignant—yet humorous—exploration of gender, puberty, death, and the universal need to, as the old ads used to say, reach out and touch someone.

The “man” of the title is Aaron, a transman (played by nonbinary actor Peter Danger Wilde) who is facing alone the terrible irony of having become a man only to be diagnosed with breast cancer, which is of course associated with women. We meet him in the waiting room of a hospital oncology ward as he awaits his weekly chemo session, shut off from the world under a pair of headphones because it’s just too hard to face it. As he asks at one point, “You know that feeling that happens when you realize how alone you are?”

He is not the only one. The waiting room also perpetually holds Luna, a playfully-named 12-year-old girl who is the “moon” of the title. Luna (played by talented tween Claire Wols), whose astronomer mother clearly must have been a Harry Potter fan, is here because her mom has cancer as well and their chemo sessions seemingly match up. Mom, though, is always placed in a special care unit, which Luna tells us means she is sicker than others: her cancer has gone on for six years. The young girl is her mom’s daughter, though: she monomaniacally obsesses over space and stars, citing random facts she has learned even to answer questions about social issues. Sometimes her metaphors are intentional; other times they may not be, but it doesn’t really matter. She can also, like her namesake, be infinitely changeable; Aaron’s conversations with her are often marked by sudden non-sequiturs and abrupt shifts of topic.

Nevertheless, Luna has a penchant for verbalizing truths she may not even understand. When Aaron accuses her of “forcing” conversations, she replies: “Isn’t that what you do with people when they’re there?
Ask them things, tell them things, and listen?” Like most children, she accepts her new friend’s gender expression easily. She refuses to dance around it: “Are you a boy or a girl? You look like both. And you sound like both. And I’ve never really met anyone like you.” When he replies that he is still “figuring it out,” Luna compares him to a star: “The star was always what it would become,” she tells him. “Even in every step that it wasn’t. Stars don’t choose to become. They just are. Always are.”

Innately, Luna understands trans people far better than a whole lot of folks in today’s world. And her celestial metaphor for their journey is empathetic and perfect. Eventually, she draws him out enough for him to trust her with some of his own inner thoughts by telling him, among other things, how much getting her period makes her feel foreign to herself. He listens and draws from his own former self to help her, since her mother is not in a position to do so. This discussion of bodily changes and differences opens a door for him.

“I wouldn’t have even known that I was different or whatever––if somebody hadn’t told me that what I feel isn’t normal. Or, if people just didn’t like… Notice. Or look at you weird. It’s just interesting what matters––what people choose to give weight.”

Typically for Luna, she turns back to a science analogy in response: “Gravity gives everything weight. So everything matters…Everything is matter.”

A sweet, often very funny—though not always smooth—relationship blossoms between these two very different people, each of whom realizes that, as Luna says, “We’re all alone in this.” It’s that knowledge, and the frustration it spawns, that motivates her to basically demand that Aaron open up to her.

In an interview I did with them last week, Ledger told me, “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: (she’s) 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.”

Honestly, I find myself tempted to talk about every minute detail of this play: it’s that well-written and well-performed. (Both Wilde and Wols inhabit these parts with such humanity that I found myself wanting to give them a hug.) I should, however, take a few moments to underscore the excellent production team, especially scenic designer Adrian Luka Oxoa, lighting designer Lauren Alyssa Skulley IV, and sound designer Payton Kaye, who together created a perfect combination of realistic and heightened atmospheres in which to tell this story.

Much of the play’s success, however, is due to the sensitive and empathetic understanding that director Hayley Procacci has brought to this production, which is part of a rolling world premiere for the play. Ledger wrote a play that blends harsh reality, prepubescent curiosity, and dreamlike desire, and Procacci instinctively grasped how to visualize that. The interactions between these characters are utterly honest: each of them is lonely and needs the other. As Luna explains, “Everything is… chasing something else. Everything wants some other thing… and we never really touch…” This dynamic is visualized in one of Procacci’s inventive and dreamy transition scenes, as the two characters slowly reach out to each other a la Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam.” We may be “alone in this,” but there are fellow travelers who are equally alone, and if somehow we could find each other, maybe all of the bad things that don’t always make sense would be far less frightening.

Man and Moon is presented by The 16th Street Theatre—this play concludes its fifteen-year run—and Dragonfly Theatre Company. It runs through Nov 13 at Madison Street Theatre, 1010 Madison St, Oak Park. For tickets and information, please visit 16th Street Theatre or, call (708) 795-6704. For more Chicago reviews or show information, see or

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