The crystalline quality of well-aged regret is a phenomenon that we in our twenties (late though they may be) are not yet adept to decipher in its robust and staggering wonderment. We pocket our white lies and betrayals. We shrug off divergences from the “path” the antiquated fatalist dares believe we are assigned. Despite bouts of brooding and tissues earnestly soaked, it is not until our later years that the present will slow its pace square with the past, obliging us to tally our losses.

In Sam Shepard’s second commission from Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, Ages of the Moon, directed by Jimmy Fay, time is the rain on rusted memories shared between two middle-aged friends heaving the weight of regret.

Sean McGinley’s Byron has come to the aid of an agitated Ames, played by Academy Award-nominated Stephen Rea, after receiving a distraught late-night call the previous day. Baking in the sun, with a stock supply of Kentucky bourbon to see them on through the evening, Byron and Ames drink to times gone by as they await the lunar eclipse. But with the darkening of the evening sky, and the opening of a second bottle, reminiscing turns into grievous reflection upon relationships each are remiss to have overlooked.

Early on, the audience learns that Ames has been forced into his country hermitage after his wife discovers he cheated on her. Precariously teetering back and forth between remorse for the cost of his one-night stand and fury for the burden of desperation married to the loss of his wife, Ames barrels through the past, the bottle, and, eventually, Byron.

In his role as Ames, Rea brilliantly inhabits the shell of a man who has become the sum total of his life’s regret. Harbouring harrowing disappointments of his own, McGinley’s take on stoicism has his Byron in a state of befuddled introspection, facetiously setting him up to play the philosopher to Ames’ brute. Unable to unfurl the reasoning behind what seems to be life’s random misfortunes, both men are proffered to the audience as fragile in their simple humanity.

With Ames proclaiming early on in the play, “A tree is a tree, I’m not used to something meaning something else,” Shepard takes the two men through rounds of truth–telling and jaunts down memory lane, until time and misdirection lands them in a clearing where existence itself seems a metaphor.

Custom written for Rea and McGinley, the actors wear the sopping grit of life’s scathing dramas like a fine tailored suit. Ages of the Moon veers from comic to tragic in the emptying of a glass. By the play’s end, defeated by hindsight too late bloomed, the fate of Shepard’s heroes are whittled down to the old proverb: a man is not old until his regrets take the place of his dreams.

Ages of the Moon

On now till March 21, 2010

Linda Gross Theater

336 West 20th Street, NYC