They make quite the odd couple, the two leading characters in Declan Greene’s provocative Moth. She (Claryssa) is a Goth fashion plate, complete with the sullen, sometimes aggressive attitude to go with it. He (Sebastian) is younger, but towers over her — he’s also gawky, awkward, eager to please, and emotionally vulnerable.
Did I mention they are in high school together?
Though there are hints of romantic attraction in the Claryssa/Sebastian relationship, mostly it’s a platonic friendship. At times, it turns contentious, even abusive — but it’s clear that abuse from others is the chief factor that binds them together. Sebastian, in particular, is the target of some very ugly bullying.
Teenage outsider-ness is a popular topic, especially in young adult fiction, the best of which — John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, for example — packs a surprising punch, and is light years beyond the stuff I was reading at that age. Moth goes way beyond that, infusing its painful narrative with unflinching authenticity. (Parents, take note — though I think Moth is particularly suited to high-school age audiences, the situations and language are very raw.)
Declan Greene’s intimate but ambitious play is a fragmentary series of encounters — but gradually we get more context, and a larger story emerges; it is, to say the least, harrowing. That story is carried entirely by Claryssa and Sebastian, who sometimes impersonate additional unseen characters. The two young actors here, Hannah Parke and Nicholas Scheppard, commit fully to the scale of the story and the quirkiness of Claryssa and Sebastian, and they give bold, accomplished performances. (Scheppard’s remarkable physicality — those arms and legs constantly akimbo — sometimes suggests a children’s book illustration of an endearingly ungainly boy.) Director Michael Osinski delivers a beautifully staged production, with fine design work (scenery by Apollo Mark Weaver, lights by Alyssandra Docherty, sound by Damien Figueras, costumes by Kayla Speedy).
For me, though, the moment-to-moment power here is stronger than the big picture. Because Moth is told entirely by Claryssa and Sebastian, it is a hermetically sealed account, filtered through a troubled perspective. That story is visceral and valid — but I longed to have a wider view; to step back and see how these two affected (and are affected by) their community.
Somehow, if we could open a window in this airless world, I think the effect would be even more devastating.
Moth runs through May 22. For more information, visit the Azuka Theatre website.