By Gail McCarthy
---- — Gordon Baird, a local writer and actor known for his animated spirit, has penned an odyssey of his own machinations.
“Crazy Moon” takes the audience on what Baird calls an “adventure musical.” The show opens tonight and runs two weeks at the Rocky Neck Cultural Center in Gloucester.
The 10-song musical, which runs an hour and 15 minutes, follows a pastiche of characters, including the Traveler, the Priest, Milo, the Oracle, Katherine and the Paramour. The show stars Baird, and features Kathleen Brown and pianist John Hyde, a local favorite.
“The plot is both mysterious and occasionally swashbuckling,” Baird said. “The play is also technically innovative at the end, using music and an interactive film and a live video musical duet.”
This theater piece was inspired by three literary works “as unalike as they are brilliant,” said Baird. Those works are Richard Dana’s sailor story “Two Years Before The Mast,” first published in 1840; Sam Holdsworth’s “Greenheads,” published in 2008 about the local carnivorous fly and its life journey, and the 1955 children’s classic “Harold & the Purple Crayon.”
The work also involves two new Gloucester institutions, the Gloucester Writers Center, which held a play-writing workshop that spawned this story, and the new Rocky Neck Cultural Center, which is an anchor to the historic artist colony.
“The play just poured out of me. It was a confluence of influences, both literary and local,” said Baird. “I knew I had to study the greats if I was going to write a journey play.”
To that end, he reviewed the epic journeys as told in Homer’s “Odyssey” and Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings,” in which nine major things happened to the traveler. So his story too contains nine scenes.
Baird said this show does not involve the usual crazy “Gordo” antics. To the contrary, he delves into a more serious role, albeit infused with humor.
“It’s almost like an Indiana Jones in that this character doesn’t have time to be funny or serious because he’s at the mercy of the events that happen in the play,” Baird said.
The children’s character Harold, the fictional child who created his own world as he walked about with his purple crayon, also was an inspiration, and the indigo lighting in “Crazy Moon” is testament to the book’s influence in this show.
“Harold is the ultimate existential story because life is repeated every day and it’s about what we make of it and yet it’s all a big illusion, a drawing board,” Baird said.
Mary John Boylan, who saw the production during a rehearsal, said it was a fun show and described it as a sort of walkabout.
“The protagonist, who is an ordinary guy, leaves home and meets up with a bunch of characters,” she explained. “It’s very clever and it’s a good vehicle for Gordo because he is a kind of one-man adventure show.”
Hyde, who performs on piano, electronic accordion and ship’s bell, is a character in his own right because he performs continuously throughout almost the entire show, with much of it improvisation as the lead character pursues his journey of self discovery.
“It’s totally improv as I underscore his dialogue. I’m trying to match the mood or set up what is going to happen next, or I may even go against the mood,” Hyde said. “It provides a lot of creative opportunity.”
Hyde, who recently was hired to do some piano tracks for “Olive Kitteridge,” the HBO television project now filming in town, said Baird’s personality comes through, although this is a different sort of show for him.
“I think he’s really grown as an actor and he’s reaching deeper inside,” he said.
Baird’s theater credits include performances with North Shore Music Theatre, Seacoast Repertory, and Boston’s Lyric Stage Company. He was founder of Billboard’s Musicians Magazine, Gloucester’s West End Theatre, and Cape Ann TV’s “Gloucester Chicken Shack.”
“Crazy Moon” opens in total darkness as the protagonist says: “The sky overhead was spread in an explosion of stars. But they were strange and unfamiliar stars. I couldn’t find the North Star and that bothered me. As if I was in another hemisphere. But why not, my world had been turned upside down, so why wouldn’t the sky?”
The songs, some original and some with new arrangements and new lyrics, include “Pensive Dove,” “Goodbye House,” “Song of Job,” “Shabot Shalom,” “Crazy Moon,” “Acadian Driftwood,” “Broken Morning,” “We Can Find Another Planet,” “Never Thought I’d Fall Again,” “You Ought to Know By Now,” and “Sunday Morning.”
“Crazy Moon” runs for eight shows, Sept. 19-22 and Sept. 26-29. (Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m. There is a benefit show for the Gloucester Writer’s Center on Sept. 26, when all ticket sales go to the center. Tickets are $10 and $5 for children, and available at the door.
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3445, or at email@example.com.
If you go Who and what: Gordon Baird's "Crazy Moon," a musical, featuring Kathleen Brown and pianist John Hyde. When: 8 p.m. tonight, Friday, Saturday, and Sept. 26 to 28; 5 p.m. Sept. 22 and 29. Where: Rocky Neck Cultural Center, 6 Wonson St., Gloucester. How much: $10. $5 for children, available at the door.