“Every time Manuel opens his mouth, I feel like a civil rights group needs to be called,” Ben Unwin said between bites of Day’s Coffee zucchini bread, while I eagerly alternated between note-taking and gulps of mocha—it’s dirt like this that makes for great news. Especially when the subject of such gossip is an infamously twisted crime lord who seeks to seize power over the city of Chicago 2.
I then opened my email to find another tip for the story from Lex Mitchell: “While Manuel is wreaking havoc in his display of glitter, blood, and candy, Night Moose is pure evil, killing everyone without mercy or regard to their level of screaming.”
Alright, so maybe this plotline is fictional—maybe the mention of a “Night Moose” tipped you off—but I still think it makes for a pretty great story, as do Lex Mitchell and Ben Unwin, the playwrights behind “The Ballad of Night Moose” which premieres this Thursday at the Alley Theater.
But from where was the idea of the titular masked and antlered character conceived?
To answer that question, one has to look at the inception of Mitchwin—Mitchell and Unwin’s collective playwriting partnership.
“Ben and I met at Bellarmine University. I went to see a play for my theatre class. Ben was cast in it. He had a beard. I did not. It didn't feel right. So he shaved his beard and I grew one. We were then cast in ‘Antigone’ together. I played Creon, he played Soldier,” Mitchell said of their initial meeting. “And, like most friendships of mine that last a long time, we bonded over movies. He was the only person who had seen ‘The Wrestler’ in the entire cast.”
The pair went on to direct to direct a series of shorts the next year for Bellarmine, and the following year, they were hired to direct a night of one-acts.
“Both of us wanted to combine both one-act plays into the same universe. It was in that irreverence that we realized how well we worked together,” Mitchell said.
And it was from their collective irreverence, a little Bob Seger, and an annoying coworker that “Night Moose” was born.
“I was riding around with a friend and Bob Seger’s ‘Night Moves’ comes on—and I just start singing “night moose” because I thought it was funny. Then somebody eventually said it sounds like the name of a superhero—and I immediately came up with a lineage of a guy strapped to a jetpack fighting a villainous moose. Then there was a guy Lex worked with who he didn’t really care for, and he started making jokes about him that got more and more outlandish, to the point where it no longer resembled the actual human being, and that’s Manuel,” Unwin said.
Over the course of three years, Mitchwin wrote “The Ballad of Night Moose” scene-by-scene, editing it back and forth until the writers were happy with the end-result. And at that point it was time to find the script a home. That’s where the Alley Theater’s Superhuman Festival came in—the Alley had open submissions and “Night Moose” fit perfectly.
And they also found a director who was completely on board with the quirky humor of the play.
“This year, a director spot came open for one of the full-length productions at the last minute, and I was in the right place at the right time. Ben and Lex have written something that I think will surprise people with its absurdity, but is nonetheless a really smart script. It has real depth and complexity, but great comedy to balance that out,” said Valerie Canon, director of “The Ballad of Night Moose.”
But the script presented an intriguing directorial dilemma—how does one direct in a way to make Night Moose, a character without dialogue, a character which actually connects to the audience?
“The Night Moose has been one of the easiest characters to direct. My background is in ballet, so I am very familiar with working with no dialogue. And the presence of that character alone is enough in most scenes,” Canon said.
With the script, the directing and the venue for the production of “The Ballad of Night Moose” set, that leaves one final element of any successful play.
Mitchell describes the ideal audience for his script: “Honestly, I think people with zany, irreverent, anarchic senses of humor will appreciate certain aspects. Those who love slapstick will find their moments. The witty will really love it. It's one of those shows that hopefully everyone will talk about. And that's all I can hope for.”
So—if you’re truly witty (or at least want to attend the show that everyone will be talking about), be sure to check out “The Ballad of Night Moose” at The Alley Theater.
Shows are April 10, 11, 17, 18 and 19, all at 7:30, and tickets can be purchased here.