Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"The Starry Messenger"--off Broadway flop

The Starry Messenger appears to be a flop despite the star being an astronomy instructor.

"A soggy 'Starry Messenger' sinks off-Broadway"


Michael Kuchwara

November 23rd, 2009

The New York Times

There's enough material for several plays in "The Starry Messenger," Kenneth Lonergan's sluggish, soggy, mid-life-crisis tale starring Matthew Broderick as an ineffectual astronomy instructor, husband, father and lover.

The drama, which The New Group opened Monday at off-Broadway's Acorn Theatre, is awash in meandering talk, conversations that push toward the three-hour mark without much resolution - or relief. And Lonergan has directed his own play, set in 1995, at such a dawdling pace that its actors might be accused of loitering.

What's needed is more than a few snips to make the playwright's portrait of a milquetoast fellow stumbling through life more compelling. And the curiously detached Broderick doesn't help matters with his remote, slo-mo performance, seeming not to connect with any of the other, much more animated actors on stage.

Broderick plays Mark, an instructor at New York's original Hayden Planetarium (a building torn down in the late 1990s). The man is stymied at work, snared in a humdrum marriage and quarreling with his teenage son. His only pleasure seems to be astronomy, a joy he tries to communicate during the classes he teaches on the subject.

These classroom situations offer at least a few moments of fun, much of it supplied by Kieran Culkin and Stephanie Cannon as two of the instructor's more exasperating students. Culkin is especially effective as a slacker who, at one point, brings in a critique of Mark's performance as a teacher. And Cannon perfectly captures that most annoying of pupils, the type who ask the most clueless of questions.

Mark's home life seems equally dreary: bickering with his wife, played by the crisply assured J. Smith-Cameron, and trying to soften a prickly relationship with his son - Culkin again, in a role than is heard from offstage but not seen.

Things change when Mark meets Angela, a sad, sweet nurse who brings her young son to the planetarium. Their romance doesn't take long to bud but both Broderick and Catalina Sandino Moreno don't generate much heat. It seems a most unlikely liaison.

The actress is much more effective in her hospital scenes where she is dealing with an elderly patient (Merwin Goldsmith) and his combative daughter (Missy Yager). Goldsmith brings refreshing directness to the role of a wise counselor offering common sense advice. He's one of the few people on stage who has a realistic view of life. But his fights with his daughter have little to do with the main plot, as does the appearance of Mark's colleague, portrayed by the likable but underused Grant Shaud.

Lonergan has written several fine plays, most notably "This Is Our Youth,""Lobby Hero" and "The Waverly Gallery." And there are flashes of his accomplished writing here, particularly near the end of the long evening when Mark attempts to explain his love of astronomy to his students during their final class. The sweet-tempered speech is filled with a sense of wonder and theatricality missing from all the earthbound chatter that has gone before.

Here is one that did work...

"Doctor Atomic"

No comments: