Stars is autobiographical - it deals with living with cerebral palsy while dreaming of being a great actor. Usually plays that are autobiographical and deal with disabilities tend to be on the passive side or read like the disease-TV-movie of the week. Stars, however, has much humanity without the usual schmaltzy sentimentality.
The play opens with the young hero, Barry (Craig Skelton), who reads Shakespeare and dreams of moving to New York City to become a great actor in spite of cerebral palsy. His mother, Julia (Hanna Hayes), is so preoccupied with protecting him she is in fact doing him harm. His grandmother Baba (Jane Doniger Reibel) had dreams of her own that were never realized. His father, Gordon (Gary Carlson), is dying. His uncle's new wife, Vivian (Veronica Bero), is so scared of his disability she doesn't want to touch him for fear of catching something. The only glimmer of hope is his uncle Frank (Mark W. Evans), who so strongly believes in him as to catapult him into action.
Mr. Brofsky's play has a great deal to offer: excellent characterizations and a good message, without being too preachy or forced. However, there are moments near the play's end that seem so pat that plausibility is sometimes lost. For instance, the character turns of Vivian and Julia from near-monsters to comrades seem too pat.
Mr. Thornburg did an elegant job of staging the play. The actors moved with a nice lucid quality. The sets by Mr. Thornburg and the lighting by Louis Lopardi lent a warm and inviting quality to the familial aspects of the play.
Stars had a good cast. At times, however, some of the actors seemed to indicate their behavior as opposed to living it. Regardless, Mr. Skelton gave an excellent performance; he made the audience care about Barry's plight without resorting to cheap manipulations. Likewise, Mr. Evans and Ms. Reibel were terrific as the uncle and grandmother who see so much potential, as the audience does, in Barry. Ms. Hayes, Ms. Bero, and Mr. Carlson lend a human slant to what otherwise could have been caricatures.
Stars makes for good theatre: a play with a message without the usual preaching that accompanies it. The production offered solid acting, directing, writing, and a hero who allows the audience to see the stars he only dreams of.
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Copyright 1999 Andrès J. Wrath