“You can find connection with any person if you’re able and open to listen,” says Siena Marilyn Ledger, the playwright of Man and Moon.
Eric Braman, the play’s director, was captivated by Ledger’s two characters as soon as they read the script. “The story is one that really touched me,” they say. “It’s a story of humans finding each other.” Ledger is a San Diego writer and actor whose previous plays include Say NO to One Paseo, Inosculation and The Empty Space.
Man and Moon will premier at Oregon Contemporary Theatre on Friday, Jan. 20, as part of the National New Play Network. The play features Aaron (Dmitri Rose), a transitioning man who is going through breast cancer treatment, and Luna (Nina Kuhl), a 12-year-old girl with a deep passion for outer space. The pair meet for the first time in an oncology unit, and it isn’t long before an unlikely friendship forms.
One of the reasons Braman was excited to work on this production is that it offers a perspective that is typically less represented in theater. “It’s important to tell new stories,” they say. “These identities are often not seen on the stage.”
The idea for Aaron’s character emerged when Ledger noticed that the story often told about people who have breast cancer is the same. “It’s [known as] a woman’s place,” they say. “But there was a piece that was missing to people who are also going through this tremendous experience of having a part of their body not cooperating with the whole.”
Luna, though young, is already intimate with the disease. She “has been dealing with this in her family, but has somehow created her own world around an ugly place, like a hospital,” the playwright says. Ledger, like the character of Luna, also has a family tie to the disease. “She’s able to make magic out of that space,” Ledger says.
The director says it’s been a delight watching Kuhl and Rose discover each other as actors and, as a result, deepen their relationship as characters. Braman remains impressed by Kuhl’s talents; the child actor has more than half the lines in the script.
Kuhl is making her OCT debut after performing in Matilda the Musical last spring at Pegasus Playhouse. “She, as an actor, is so intuitive, because she hasn’t been trained to not follow her instincts yet,” Braman says. “She is a young person that really has access to her heart and to her spirit, and she brings it out in her performance.”
Braman says that it’s a special performance for Rose because he gets to play a character that reflects his trans identity. “I’ve watched him step into this role with immense courage and find so much brilliant nuance that other actors would not have been able to bring to the show.”
The Eugene production is part of a rolling world premiere for Man and Moon. Ledger explains that there have been two other premiere productions of this play, in Utah last spring and Illinois last fall. “This is the newest version of the script and the most fresh, and seeing how that sits with the cast has been really cool,” they say. Ledger will change the script if they like an actor’s improvisation from the material. “There’s a lot of amazing things that come out of the collaboration of live theater.”
Braman emphasizes that Ledger has been involved with the OCT production from the start. “We will be the first theater to work on this iteration of the play, and we’ve gotten to work really closely with the playwright to bring it to fruition,” they say. The director says that Ledger has provided key insight on how the other theaters have handled elements of the production, and their role as a creative partner has been invaluable. “I know it’s been meaningful for them to see some of the magical moments of the play come together,” Braman says.
Ledger believes the story can help bridge a gap between the LGBTQ community and the rest of the world.
“What I hope this play does most is build empathy,” Braman says. “And for us as audience members to show up and be ready to listen, be ready to learn and be ready to change.”
Man and Moon runs Jan. 20 through Feb. 5 at Oregon Contemporary Theatre, 194 W. Broadway. Tickets and more info at OCTheatre.org.