The first time we see Mona and Terry, they are alone on stage, wearing matching blue camouflage track suits, blue bicycle helmets and blue sneakers.

We soon learn they are Canadian actors and they are in New Hampshire, a stop on the tour of their two-person theatrical show. They're traveling to each gig by bike, one of which has a trailer attached to it to carry their props and the tent they sleep in each night.

In "The Making of a Great Moment," now making its world premiere at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in downtown Lowell, playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb explores what drives artists (in this case, theater actors) to create, even in the face of great hardship.

The show Mona and Terry are performing in is not a hit, as you would imagine, given their accommodations. Their latest gig is at a nursing home, and just as the performance starts, the lights go out and the two actors are forced to perform in the dark. That night, they sleep side by side under the stars.

The play-within-a-play is called "Great Moments in Human Achievement," and its premise is as ambitious as the title suggests. It calls for Mona and Terry to perform dozens of mini-monologues (most about 10 seconds long), in which they take turns portraying people who have made an imprint on human civilization.

Some of the characters are real, such as Baron Karl von Drais, who invented the bicycle. The funniest ones are mythical, like Apendictus, who we are told was the first surgeon. Or Cremini, who allegedly ate the first mushroom.


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With exaggerated acting, bare-bones costumes and high-falutin' themes, the play-within-a-play resembles a pretentious high-school theater production.

Throughout the 90-minute running time of "The Making of a Great Moment," the script frequently slips between Mona and Terry's lives as traveling actors and the play they perform on a nightly basis. In the portion of the play set in the real world, it emerges that there is a rift between the duo.

Life on the road is beginning to wear Terry down. Played by Danny Scheie, Terry is an aging actor who craves the stability that a popular show could bring him. He has a penchant for taking any gig that comes his way, no matter how demeaning, to avoid the terrifying prospect of being out of work.

"I'd rather be in any show than no show at all," he tells Mona.

Mona, while also an experienced actor, is younger than Terry and still has a passion for theater. Played by Aysan Celik, she believes the show she and Terry are performing can change lives.

Scheie and Celik have great chemistry. Director Sean Daniels does a nice job keeping the energy high while balancing the script's pathos and comedy.

Terry's futile attempt to set up a tent will give anyone who has struggled with that task a bout of PTSD. A scene involving a bicycle crash will make you think twice about riding without a helmet. A joke involving the vice president-elect of the United States is hilarious.

While the set of "The Making of a Great Moment" is sparse compared to recent MRT productions, scenic designer Apollo Mark Weaver brilliantly allows the characters to have extended conversations while in bed by using vertical sleeping bags. The actors are standing but appear to be lying on their backs.

If there is a fault with "The Making of a Great Moment," it's that Mona and Terry begin to sound repetitive as their discussions about what drives them drone on. At its weakest moments, it feels like you're sitting in on a dull therapy session with two struggling actors.

Much of the humor is also about the theater, which feels self-indulgent at times. But with their charisma and impeccable timing, Celik and Scheie make the material work. 

"The Making of a Great Moment" runs through Jan. 29 at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre, 50 East Merrimack St., Lowell. Tickets are on sale at www.mrt.org or by calling 978-654-4678.