A step into the “golden age,” the 1960s had promised to be America’s social, economic, and technological renaissance. At least that was the promise of the newly elected president John F. Kennedy. But before the reforms could get into full swing, the nation had suffered the tragic loss of their leader in 1964. The war against poverty did not come cheap, and with the cost of the United States’ participation in the Vietnam War, the nation was closer to falling apart rather than the “New Frontier” JFK had promised.
Set in 1965 to 1966, Moonchildren, a play by Michael Weller, portrays the youth in the brink of becoming adults and joining the “real” world in one of America’s most tumultuous times. The play explores the ordinary lives, worries, and issues of eight college students. Bob, Kathy, Mike, Cootie, Norman, Ruth, Dick, and Shelly live together in “a student apartment in an American college town.” Bob, the play’s main character (though not revealed until the middle part of the second act), is a music student who is plagued by one worry on top two others. He wrestles with the dread of being drafted for the war and the fear of losing his mother to cancer. His worries are aggravated by an existential crisis, which pushes him to further alienate himself. The other characters are not without worries of their own. Though the play places focus on Bob, Michael Weller smoothly interweaves the stories and troubles of the rest of the apartment residents to the central plot of the play.
Although set several decades before the present time, the fears harbored by the characters are entirely relatable to this day. The characters are faced by similar worries of surviving into the real world, conflicting views on their country’s involvement in the Vietnam War, and looking for their purpose in life.
The New York Times describes the play as “a phenomenal, virtuoso display of wit and verbal imagination.” An apt description, if we consider its contemporary attitude and colorful array of characters. Cootie and Mike’s antics, Ruth’s sensibility, Norman’s bookish seriousness, Dick’s embodiment of his nickname, and more mesh to create a brilliantly entertaining play that promises to be simultaneously amusing and evocative. Moonchildren hits you with a sense of nostalgia, fondness, and understanding. It’s no wonder that it has become one, if not the most, influential and renowned work of Weller.