A scene from “The Old Man and The Old Moon” at the Old Globe Theatre.

By Pat Launer

A long time ago, the moon was always full. An Old Man kept it that way, filling it with liquid light. But it sprang a leak, and light began to seep out. And that’s why we have lunar cycles.

This is the fairy tale, “The Old Man and the Old Moon” (reminiscent of a Kipling “Just So” story), told by the PigPen Theatre Company, currently making its West coast debut at The Old Globe.

The troupe of seven multi-talented male actor/singer/writers met 10 years ago when they were freshmen at the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama. One of their professors — Stuart Carden — co-directs the piece, which they’ve been working on for five years. It has been presented in New York, Boston and Chicago.

One day, the Old Man’s wife of many years wanders off in search of adventure, leaving only a tantalizing melody behind. For years, he had promised to go adventuring with her, but they’ve never even left their cliffside cottage to go into town.

The Old Man decides to abandon his obligation to the Moon, to search for his wife. He embarks on his own wild adventure, an odyssey that includes several battles at sea, being swallowed by a giant fish, lifted in an air balloon, washed up on a desert isle, rescued by a dog, and on and on.

While early on, he fails to break the spine of the fish his wife is cooking, he does so with the megafish, and along his journey, manages to find a spine of his own, as he doggedly pursues what he comes to realize is a beloved and devoted mate. In sometimes lyrical ways, he learns about memory, regret and responsibility.

In the meantime, the Moon is neglected, the light seeps out and everything is thrown into chaos and darkness. Everything sorts itself out in the end, and the couple is reunited (though he doesn’t seem much more attentive to his wife than he was at the outset).

Throughout the storytelling, there’s a good bit of music, most of a Celtic-folk sensibility, energetically played and often sung in gorgeous harmonies. But with all the yelling, percussion and creative noisemaking, it isn’t easy to discern the lyrics.

The production is all about stage magic, creating boats and dogs and seas — and even music — out of practically nothing. It’s wildly inventive, though we’ve seen just this kind of heightened theatricality in “Shipwrecked” at North Coast Rep, “Peter and the Starcatcher” at the La Jolla Playhouse, and even the inspired “Into the Woods” adaptation by Fiasco Theatre, another New York-based company that happens to be performing next door to the Old Globe Theatre, in the Sheryl and Harvey White White Theatre (this time, it’s their new adaptation of “The Imaginary Invalid”).

So, this kind of theatermaking isn’t new to us. The PigPen company, with their multiple instruments, physical agility and antic energy, seem to be very concerned with the inventiveness of the production. So much so, that the story actually takes a backseat, as we marvel at their ingenuity and malleability.

The conceits tend to become repetitive, and the show feels loud and frenetic. And there’s something a little self-congratulatory about it, a bit of a “Look how clever we are! Look what we can do!” attitude. And this kept me from becoming fully engaged.

But there are also moments of sheer delight and creative virtuosity: the boat fashioned from a sling of fabric; the mop-dog; the liquor bottles of light — and music.

And some of the language is truly lovely and poetic: “Memory sleeps forever until a spark lights a candle”; “they danced to the music the wind made as it whistled off the cliffs”; sailing “toward the place where the sea meets the night sky, drifting along the moon’s glow.”

The production values — the sound, light, props, costumes, puppets — are superb, and make wonderful use of the multi-level wood-platformed set.

Take the journey, if you will. Like other adventurers, you might get caught on some rocks, or even feel like you’re ‘in irons’ at times, but if you sail with PigPen, you’ll arrive right back where you started.

  • The PigPen Theatre Company production of “The Old Man and The Old Moon” runs through June 18, in the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park
  • Performances are Tuesday-Wednesday at 7 p.m., Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m., with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. There will be no matinee performance on Saturday, June 10.
  • Running Time: 90 min.
  • Tickets (starting at $29) are at 619-23-GLOBE or TheOldGlobe.org

Pat Launer is a long-time San Diego arts writer and an Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of her previews and reviews can be found at patlauner.com.