In addition to providing the space and freedom for wild and crazy stuff, The Capitol Fringe Festival offers a tremendously important opportunity for plays in development to be staged and get some feedback. Night Sky is such a play. The playwright, Pat Connelly, has been working on Night Sky for several years, rewritten it numerous times and had two staged readings.
It has all the right pieces in place: a very good premise; a dedicated producer (who is also a comedian, a Ph.D. economist and Certified Financial Planner); a playwright with over 20 years of experience writing, producing and directing plays who moonlights as the partner of a D.C. law firm; two card-carrying members of Actors Equity; a director with over 33 years of experience and the recipient of three Helen Hayes Award nominations for Outstanding Direction who is also an adjunct faculty member at American U.; and a professional Dramaturg with some impressive experience. That is a lot of firepower, surely sufficient to fuel something new and exciting.
If the analogy were to be an airplane flight, this one never got off the ground. It kind of went around in circles on the runway before limping back into the gate not really sure of its destination or whether it had what it takes for lift off.
As a theatrical event, it was often stilted, awkward and repetitious. And there were more than a few situations where I felt some embarrassment for the actors.
This is a work in progress so there is hope. But Night Sky has a long, long way to go.
The play is supposed to be about the difficulties of aging and what it’s like when, at an advanced age, people start losing friends, their job, their home and their dignity as a human being. Those elements are there but they are overwhelmed by a cacophony of dysfunctional family situations, repetitious arguments that go on too long and a whole ton of denial and ill-motivated stubbornness.
I had the distinct feeling that the play was under-rehearsed. There were too many awkward moments with fluffed lines, missed cues and surprisingly wooden and unmotivated movement. I know there was a last minute change in venue which could explain some of the problems, but it cannot excuse a noticeable lack of attention to fundamentals.
It would be unfair, not to mention boring, to dwell on the shortcomings of this piece. There were some things to like.
Fourteen year-old Bailey Drew Lehfeldt was delightful. The whole mood of the piece shifted pretty much every time she made an appearance. The same was true whenever Regen Wilson, in the small but important part of Richard, took the stage. He was real and authentic and had a sense for varying the pace and tonal quality of his scenes that was refreshing.
Martha Karl plays the pivotal role of Jill, the daughter of the protagonist and the mother of the delightful Miss Lehfeldt (character name – Sam). I had the sense that she was sometimes concerned about her next line because she stepped on the other actors’ lines a little too often. From time to time, however, she took full command and, when she did, her timing was spot on and you could see the potential for good things to come from her.
Barbara Rappaport, one of the two Equity actresses, found some interesting things to do with her character, Doris, and was quite compelling at times. It is not easy to find really good roles for older women in the theatre. This is not one of them yet, but Rappaport does her best with the material at hand.
Faith Potts, the other Equity actress, is the central character – the stubborn, willful 76 year-old grandmother around whom the play revolves. Ms. Potts is a skilled performer who has some nice moments. You can see glimmers of real possibility for this character becoming something dynamic and poignant. Hopefully she will have the opportunity to occupy this role again when the play is better developed.
Night Sky has 4 more performances at the Wonderbox, 629 New York Ave, Washington, DC.