A white man with thinning brown hair sits at left. On the other side of the table is a white woman with short brown hair. They are clutching the sides of the table and leaning in toward each other.
Jeffrey Bivens (left) and Vicki Walden in Curious Theatre Branch's Moon at the Bottom of the Ocean Credit: Jeffrey Bivens

It’s beginning to feel like we’re having a mini festival this year of plays about the romantic and professional conflicts facing artist (or academic) couples, between First Floor’s Hatefuck by Rehana Lew Mirza and Steppenwolf’s Another Marriage by Kate Arrington. 

Bryn Magnus’s latest comedy, Moon at the Bottom of the Ocean, perhaps completes the trifecta. But Curious Theatre Branch, of which Magnus is a longtime member (alongside sister Jenny Magnus, who directs Moon and cofounded Curious 35 years ago with her onetime partner Beau O’Reilly) has long been producing work that examines the sometimes nurturing, sometimes suffocating bonds of creative life and family love.

Moon at the Bottom of the Ocean
Through 9/23: Fri-Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 PM; no performances Sat 9/9 and Sun 9/24; Chicago Dramatists, 798 N. Aberdeen, curioustheatrebranch.com, pay what you can ($20 suggested donation)

In Moon, Paul (Jeffrey Bivens) is an unpublished writer in Brooklyn so consumed with jealousy of a more successful scribe who just won a MacArthur “genius” grant that he hires Vera (Julia Williams), a private investigator, to help him figure out the secret to the other man’s success. Paul’s singer wife, Les (Vicki Walden), who can “sing” a person’s face just by looking at them, tells him, “I think you should just tell a story, and the rest takes care of itself.” But Les’s chance to record back-up vocals with an up-and-coming pop star gets derailed when Paul’s paranoia and bitterness seeps into her optimistic viewpoint. Meantime, Williams’s deadpan private dick is hiding some longtime aches and doubts of her own.

All of this comes together in a moving and often quite funny staging. It’s bare-bones in terms of production values (some projected titles offer a clever take on a table of contents for the narrative), which is all the better for focusing on the small, poignant reactions and the larger moments of physical comedy. It adds up to a tender and knowing portrait of people learning that the value of their story is in the connections to the loved ones who share it.