Review: “Yellow Moon”

RECOMMENDED

Where: Writers Theatre, Books on Vernon, 664 Vernon Ave., Glencoe
When: through Aug 4
Tickets: $35-$60
Phone: 847-242-6000

By ANNE SPISELMAN
Theater Critic

David Greig’s “Yellow Moon” offers all the pleasures of a good story told well. And the Writers’ Theatre production, deftly tucked into the postage-stamp of a theater at the back of Books on Vernon, brings a whole world to life with just four actors, four chairs and lots of words.

While this show doesn’t quite catch fire like the National Theatre of Scotland’s tour with Greig’s “The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart” at Chicago Shakespeare Theater last year, I actually found it easier to follow and more comprehensible in its exploration of the human psyche. The script assigns the dialogue to the specific characters but leaves decisions about dividing up the narration to the director, and Stuart Carden has handled them smoothly, so the tale flows along seamlessly.

It starts in a small village outside Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, then moves through several locations and lands in a cabin near a manor in the Scottish Highlands. The central character is an alienated adolescent troublemaker named Lee (Josh Salt) — for “Stagger Lee” in the old blues ballad — who lives with his dysfunctional, virtually catatonic mother, Jenni (Karen Janes Woditsch), and her brutish boyfriend, Billy (John Lister). Lee’s get-rich scheme is to become a pimp, and at the mall one night he asks the exceedingly quiet Muslim girl from school, Leila (Ashleigh LaThrop), to be one of his whores. It’s an absurd idea, but she has a secret that goes beyond an addiction to celebrity magazines, and Lee’s proposal plays into her desperate need to do something, anything to feel alive.

When a confrontation with Billy ends in his death, Lee goes on the lam and takes Leila with him. His plan is to find his rich father who’s living the high life in the Scottish Highlands. Or so he thinks. 

As their journey plunges them into a variety of daunting and dire situations, Lee and Leila slowly form a bond, despite her near silence. They also learn a lesson or two about responsibility from Frank (Lister), the caretaker who rescues them from freezing and loves American blues, and Leila makes friends with a real celebrity, Holly (Woditsch), who shares her secret. 

Greig’s style, which might be described as heightened poetic realism infused with folk songs and blues rhythms, is part of what makes the evening enjoyable. Generally topnotch acting helps too, and I believed the love story even though Lee and Leila were more subtle than passionate. Most of all, though, I just got caught up in the storytelling.