PigPen’s ‘Old Man’: Lo-tech, but highly entertaining

Caption: Curtis Gillen, Matt Nuernberger, Arya Shahi,Ryan Melia, Ben Ferguson, Dan Weschler in the PigPen Theatre Co.’s “The Old Man and the Old Sea.” Photo: Liz Lauren

Curtis Gillen, Matt Nuernberger, Arya Shahi, Ryan Melia, Ben Ferguson, Dan Weschler in the PigPen Theatre Co.’s “The Old Man and the Old Sea.”Photo: Liz Lauren

BOSTON — The PigPen Theatre Co. is in the best tradition of the traveling troubadours and storytellers who moved from town to town.

In an era of 3-D spectacles and $300 million movies loaded with CG effects, the company’s decidedly lo-tech approach to storytelling in their production of “The Old Man and the Old Moon” at the Paramount Theatre is something very warm, intimate, human — and funny.
The production, part of ArtsEmerson’s The World on Stage Series, takes a decidedly retro approach to their task, combining a homespun tale, shadow puppetry, music and a seemingly endless supply of wit.
It takes split-second timing for the ensemble to portray a dazzling array of characters.
The members of the company — Alex Falberg, Ben Ferguson, Curtis Gillen, Ryan Melia, Matt Nuernberger, Arya Shahi, Dan Weschler — each play various instruments (guitar, banjo, fiddle, accordion, piano) and perform multiple roles.
They first met as freshmen at the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama in 2007. Their original plays “The Nightmare Story,” “The Mountain Song” and “The Old Man and The Old Moon” have been produced Off-Broadway and around the U.S., to glowing reviews.
Other honors include being the first group to win the NYC Fringe Festival’s top honor for a play two years in a row in 2010 and 2011.
As befitting their youth, energy and enthusiasm, the audience at a recent performance truly crossed generations, with a generous representation of college-aged theater-goers.
As folksingers, their harmonic blend reminds one of the Irish folk group “The Wolfetones.” Any musical ensemble that has not one but two banjos has me won over from the start.
The Old Man (Melia) abandons his duty of filling the moon each day with liquid light to search for the Old Woman,  his missing wife (Falberg), who has gone off by herself after tiring of the Old Man’s unmet promises.
It sets off a series of fantastic adventures for the Old Man that will see him lead a ship West, ever West, past the ends of the earth in search of the City of Light.
He’ll eventually be swallowed whole by a large fish and find the very man he’s been impersonating, a sea hero named Lt. Pericles who has been missing for 20 years.
He will also navigate a flock of flying sharks, take a hot air balloon ride to remember and benefit from the efforts of a hilariously helpful dog.
All the while, the moon has been losing its light little by little — there is a slow leak like the one you get in your car tire — and the Old Man’s inattention will have consequences, because one day the moon is gone. There is irony in recalling the advice the Old Man once gave to another: “Never forget your post.”
The production values are both funny and skilled, including Mikhail Fiksel’s well-thought-out sound effects, Bart Cortright’s effective lighting, and Lydia Fine’s puppetry, done in conjunction with cast members.
It’s all fun, and it all works, and it’s refreshingly different and thoroughly delightful.
Arts Emerson presents “The Old Man and the Old Moon.“ A Play with Music by PigPen Theatre Company. Directed by Stuart Carden & PigPen Theatre Company, in association with Tomatom, LLC and Writers Theatre; Scenic & Costume Design, Lydia Fine; Lighting Design,Bart Cortright; Sound Design, Mikhail Fiksel; Stage Manager, Libby Unsworth; Puppetry, Lydia Fine and PigPen Theatre Company; Technical Supervisor, Eric Nottke; Assistant Stage Manager, Jenn Jacobs; AssistantSound Designer, Isabella Byrd; Scenic Supervisor, Derrick Pemberton; FOH Mixer, Adrianna Branno. At the Paramount Theatre through Nov 23. http://www.artsemerson.org.