The Peculiar and Sudden Nearness of the Moon
Dark secrets come to light when Sydney Spencer’s baby is born. Dark like the color of her newborn’s skin, which doesn’t match the paleness of either parent. Dark as the accusations from her Irish husband when he sees the coffee-colored skin and curly black hair of his firstborn. And dark as a family vault holding a generation of secrets.
The way one incident can topple an ingrained identity and a belief in one’s own culture and class is the fascinating topic of the Sacramento Theatre Company’s The Peculiar and Sudden Nearness of the Moon. It’s a world premiere from multiracial playwright Velina Hasu Houston, who has explored race and roots in three of her plays previously produced by STC: Tea, Shedding the Tiger, and Kokoro. In Nearness of the Moon, Houston takes on the tonal shades of skin color and the hidden truths in families, while adding dreamlike sequences, a shadowy rhyming ghost figure, and some modern-dance movements. Most of this works if you keep in mind that the play is still being workshopped.
Dramatic moments start things off: Sounds of thunder and whipping winds accompany a karate-chopping, poetry-spewing man (Kyle Haden) attacking a very pregnant Sydney (STC regular Saffron Henke). This enigmatic black-clad figure announces that he is a “fugitive from history” and not a menacing mugger, though exactly what he represents is never fully explained.
Most of the action in the play’s first half takes place at the newborn’s incubator and in the hospital waiting room, between a confused Sydney and her equally confused and angry husband, Brad (Brett Williams). Added to this mix is Sydney’s secretive, repressed mother Jessica (Susan Andrews). The second half revolves around rediscovered family members, played by Irene Velasquez and Vincent Dee Miles.
There is much to applaud about this production, from its thought-provoking subject matter and sharp dialogue to its talented cast. However, Houston needs to lessen the rhyming and dramatics of the first half, and pull together the second half so it doesn’t head off in a completely different direction.