The seven young men who comprise PigPen Theatre Co.—formed a scant few years back when they were undergrads at Carnegie Mellon University—truck in an enchanting style of storytelling that incorporates clever shadow puppetry, folksy repurposing of found objects as props and an infusion of equally (indie) folksy music. For their Chicago-area debut, they've reteamed with an old CMU mentor, Stuart Carden (now associate artistic director at Glencoe's Writers Theatre), to refine a full-length fable about a man charged with refilling the light of a leaky moon. When his loving but listless wife sets off for some much needed excitement, he abandons his post to follow her, finding unexpected seafaring adventure of his own.
PigPen's invigorating aesthetic, at least in this whimsically nautical tale, is something like a Redmoon or Building Stage spectacle multiplied by a Decemberists concert. The hero's journey the guys set up for the titular cantankerous caretaker is loaded with charm, inventiveness and visual wit (with credit due also to designers and PigPen collaborators Bart Cortright and Lydia Fine, who turn Writers Theatre's already intimate space into a cozy, multilevel audiovisual workshop). The performers' versatility, both in their acting and their mastery of multiple musical instruments, is as impressive as their undiluted earnestness.
The show is a tad overstuffed, even though some material has reportedly been excised from the longer version that was seen in New York last year; it still feels like it could use just a slightly closer shave. But it's tough to shake the notion at The Old Man and the Old Moon that you're in at the launch stage of a group that could soon escape orbit.