Author Pamela Gray talks about “A Walk on the Moon”


By Charles Paolino

originally published: 04/25/2022

A walk on the moon appears at the George Street Playhouse this week with drama, comedy, music and a sigh of relief. The latter comes from Pamela Gray, who wrote the play and who had begun to believe that it would never have made it to the New Brunswick hall.

Like so many things, Gray’s response is tied to the COVID pandemic. The musical, based on Gray’s script for the 1999 film of the same name, was due to open in George Street two years ago.

“I had already shipped my clothes to New York,” Gray said. “I was supposed to get on a plane the day after the world shut down,” which is the day indoor gatherings, such as theater events, became banned.

But the pandemic has subsided enough to allow cinemas to reopen, and A walk on the moon is presented by George Street from April 26 to May 21.

The play — perhaps the biggest production in the theater house’s history — is the story of four working-class Jewish families who vacation each year in a bungalow colony in the Catskills and start anew. summer of 1969, a setting that Gray drew from his own experience. The adults in the room expect, in fact most of them wish, that this year’s holiday will be the same as last year’s. The women will play mah-jongg; the men, who commute from work every weekend, will compete for the shortest commute time on Route 17.

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But this summer, the deliberate similarity of those jaunts is weighed against two world-changing events — the Apollo 11 moon landing and the Woodstock festival — and anti-Vietnam war and pro-civil rights sentiment stirring the country.

Teenager Alison Kantrowitz is a vacationer who’s ready to rock the annual routine. She bristles at being forced to spend time with a group of disconnected adults. She rails against the cost of a moon landing as poverty persists on earth. She yearns to join the public protests against the war. And this rock festival, not so far away in upstate New York, is a siren song amplified by Alison’s new acquaintance, young guitarist Ross Epstein.

Pearl Kantrowitz, Alison’s mother and wife of TV repairman Marty, is an adult in this party who becomes increasingly unsettled in the familiar bungalow environment. For Pearl, the moonwalk becomes a reminder that great things are happening and she is not one of them. She cries a dream of youth stifled by a monotonous life. She is frustrated with Marty, who is too busy fixing televisions to spend time with her. She listens to Alison’s thought-provoking ideas on war and social responsibility and Bunny, a friend who has read The feminine mystic. And she meets Walker Jerome, a traveling blouse salesman who pays attention to her, gives her his phone number, and heads to San Francisco after Labor Day. “It’s 1969 there too,” Pearl tells him. “Is it?” he asks.

A walk on the moon was staged by the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco in June 2018. In the meantime, Gray said, the play has evolved, not in terms of overall change, but rather in terms of highlighting themes who were there from the start. Public events were catalysts for this development, she said, including the rise of anti-Semitism during the Trump years, the murder of George Floyd and the reaction – on the streets – to this crime.

“From the time I wrote the screenplay,” Gray said, “my goal was to present a slice of working-class Jewish life that others don’t experience, to remind the audience that Jews were in those places because they weren’t there. I don’t feel safe anywhere else. The year 1969 was not so far from the Holocaust, and there had been so much anti-Semitism since then. In the first six months of 1969, seven temples were burnt down.One temple was demolished in Far Rockaway which was not rebuilt until the 1980s.

“Bungalow settlements began in the 1930s. There was fun, love and camaraderie, but the Jews were there for a reason,” a reason the play alludes to. In this regard, Gray said, the play dramatizes what it is like to be outsiders. “We don’t experience the horrors that black people and other people of color experience,” she said, “and yet we live with that inside of us.”

Another issue Gray and director Sheryl Kaller focused on after 2018 was the play’s inherent feminism. When Bunny explains that Betty Freidan writes in A female mystic that it’s a myth that women don’t want to go to college and have careers, and that one day they’ll have jobs and be paid like men are paid, Pearl’s mother-in-law responds, “Like if it would ever happen.”

“We’re still fighting battles as women that we didn’t expect to be fighting now,” Gray said. “Pearl is a woman who couldn’t live her life to the full, who didn’t have a choice. This is unfortunately still relevant.

Pearl has to make some serious choices in this play, and Gray is passionate in her desire that the character not be viewed unfairly. Gray wants people to realize that Pearl represents all women who are not fully recognized and recognized as human beings.

“Even from the time I wrote the script, I knew that there are people who are going to judge her harshly and think she did something morally wrong. I want people to understand her, that they know all the reasons why it could happen to that woman that summer.

Gray said another thing she and her creative team noted was a resurgence in mass protests following the death of George Floyd. “So many times the press said, ‘We haven’t seen this since the 1960s,'” she recalls. “In 69, young people demonstrated in the streets. There was a feeling that they had a voice, that they could change the world, that they felt responsible for changing the world because of the war in Vietnam and the atrocities against black people.

At a pivotal moment in the play, Alison, whom Gray describes as “a girl who believes she can stop the Vietnam War if she fights hard enough,” joins Pearl while watching a television report by civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy. leading a peaceful protest outside. the Kennedy Space Center on the eve of launch. Mother and daughter listen and hear, as Abernathy says, “We can go from this day to Mars and Jupiter, and even to the heavens beyond, but as long as racism, poverty, war and hunger will prevail on the earth, we as a civilized nation have failed.

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A walk on the moon, with music and lyrics by Paul Scott Goodman and AnnMarie Milazzo, is presented on the stage of the Elizabeth Ross Johnson Theater at the New Brunswick Center for the Performing Arts. Click here for ticket information.

To learn more about Charles Paolino, visit his blog.

Lola R. McClure