Patsy Cline is the muse for Martin Dockery’s excellent script, Moonlight After Midnight. The playwright and Vanessa Quesnelle perform this two-hander at 17 E. Court St., a block south of Central Parkway, a vacant store space used as a 2015 Fringe venue. It’s kind of a bleak space, black tormentor side flats and white walls, in fact, but it’s perfect for the actors who perform dressed in black (him) and white (her).
But there’s nothing black-and-white about Moonlight After Midnight. It’s all gray and a bit foggy, the story of two lonely people who meet in a hotel room, perhaps an anonymous assignation arranged by a phone call. He is bored and waiting; she arrives, and verbal sparring ensues. What is motivating either one is not immediately clear.
They decide to do a bit of role-playing to explore where it might take them, and Moonlight After Midnight is off and running — down blind alleys and around unexpected corners as they move like quicksilver from one relationship to another, sometimes happily and sometimes with angst and awkward emotion. Are they acquainted? Are they friends? Are they lovers? Are they married? Are they divorced? Over 55 swift minutes — without ever physically touching until the very last moment — they smoothly move from one moment to another.
The show’s melancholy tone is set by pre-recorded music, Cline singing her plaintive, iconic songs including “I’m Sorry” and “You Belong to Me.” In fact, the show’s title derives from one of her hits, “I’m always walkin’ after midnight/Searchin’ for you.” Searching is the thread that binds them and this script.
Twice an imaginary radio is turned on, given voice by Quesnelle singing a cappella renditions of “Crazy” and “I Fall to Pieces,” using Cline’s evocative vocal range and yearning phrasing. Her voice distills the emotion that bubbles between them as they slide from one scenario to the next.
By show’s end, Moonlight After Midnight has taken us through 360 degrees of emotion, a full gamut of life, longing and love. It concludes with Quesnelle sitting alone on the chair where we saw Dockery at the play’s beginning. Full circle. But we are full with the feelings that have been explored and expressed. It’s a tour de force of writing and acting.
Dockery and Quesnelle, co-founders of Concrete Drops Theatre Company based in New York City, are making their first appearance at the Cincinnati Fringe. But they are veterans of numerous festivals; they have come to Cincinnati straight from Florida, where Moonlight After Midnight was named the best show at the Orlando Fringe. Dockery also won Orlando’s best-show award a year ago with another script, The Surprise. Let’s hope they make the Cincy Fringe a regular stop on future Fringe travels across the U.S and Canada.