It is not a bad thing that “Sundown, Yellow Moon’s” original music by playwright Rachel Bond and The Bengsons is memorable. The songs would overpower lesser material, but they are the invisible motivator of Bond’s powerful look at a fragile family now playing at the McGinn/Cazale WP Theatre.
. . .powerful. . .
Fraternal twins Ray (Lilli Cooper) and Joey (Eboni Booth), the duel heroines of the one-act play, couldn’t be more different: Ray is a songwriter struggling with composing and feelings for her older female boss, while Joey is an overly anxious overachiever with a Fulbright scholarship. They are visiting their southern lakeside childhood home to see their professor dad Tom (Peter Friedman).
Not only is Tom floundering since divorcing the twins’ mother, he’s been suspended following an incident on campus. The school has been sending counselor Carver (JD Taylor), who is living with a childhood trauma and ex-band mates routinely receiving gold records, to talk to him. Unknown to Ray and Tom, Joey has been meeting up with a married professor, Ted Driscoll (Greg Keller).
Director Anne Kaufman eases her standout cast through every plot and character layering. Bond doesn’t create confusion in her writing, which is where music comes in and Kaufman lets naturally occur. With Ray suffering writer’s block, Tom’s singing and guitar playing providing consolation, and Carver’s silent sorrow over lost opportunities, songs express what words cannot.
This is especially true when folkie neighbors Bobby (Michael Pemberton) and Jean’s (Anne L. Nathan) sing-along with Ray and Tom (who also plays guitar) ends with one of those family disputes in front of company that everyone tries to pretend isn’t really happening.
Joey is also present at this get-together. She is the only one without a musical connection, which is how Bond shifts sisterhood dynamics. Initially, Joey comes across as the more responsible one, but it is Ray who sees her father and Carver’s pain.
There are two other “unseens” that also contribute to “Sundown, Yellow Moon.” The first is that the twins’ black mother never appears: a tried-and-true plot device that builds tension. The other is that race is less of an issue. For this particular biracial stage family, their survival as a unit is what’s important.
The roles of Ray and Joey are rewarding ones for Lilli Cooper and Eboni Booth. They act like sisters, and Peter Friedman acts like their dad. “Sundown, Yellow Moon” ends without easy answers. If it did, it would lose its voice.
Running Time: 95 minutes, without intermission.