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Night Sky - Off-Broadway Review

Hearts Communicate When Words Fail

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating

By

Night Sky, off-Broadway plays

Jim Stanek and Jordan Baker

Photo by Carol Rosegg

A brilliant astronomer loses the ability to speak, and both she and those around her struggle to learn new ways of communicating. This Susan Yankowitz play explores the effects of aphasia, a trauma-induced loss of the ability to commmunicate in speech or writing.

What 'Night Sky' Is About

Anna loves the stars. She loves teaching her students about them at a New York university. She loves researching them, writing about them, talking about them. Daniel, her fiance, is a struggling opera singer who has yet to get his big break. With Anna as the breadwinner, domestic responsibility falls to him, including being a soon-to-be stepfather to Anna’s teenage daughter, Jennifer.

An opportunity to present a career-making paper in Paris leads to a bitter argument between Anna and Daniel. He resents her success. She resents his lack of it. At first they talk past each other, then they hurl words at each other.

Bolting from their apartment, Anna is struck by a car, waking in the hospital with a condition known as aphasia. She has lost no intellect, but she can no longer speak or write. Now, as Daniel’s career begins to rise, Anna is the dependent one. He has found his place to sing; she can barely talk.

Anna’s situation - the grueling speech therapy; progress measured in a few new words a day; quirky behavior, mannerisms and speech - test the love these two had for one another.

Welcome Back, Jordan Baker

Yankowitz wrote Night Sky in 1991 to honor a playwright friend who struggled through aphasia to be able to write once again before the end of his life. This particular production was co-produced by The National Aphasia Association.

In a work with a mission such as Night Sky, it’s easy for an “Afternoon Special” mentality to creep in or simply bowl the elements of good storytelling over. To be sure, there are a few rocky moments at first. The interplay between Anna and Daniel and Anna and Jennifer tries for a Gilmore Girls snappiness but is more painful than funny. Yet everything changes, including the quality of the piece, with Anna’s accident and resulting disability.

Jordan Baker is outstanding as the afflicted Anna. Baker was last seen 15 years ago on Broadway in Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Three Tall Women. After seeing her in Night Sky, I hope it’s not another decade and a half before she’s on stage in New York again. She brings a dignity and reality to a once-brilliant and articulate woman who is still brilliant but suddenly speechless.

Jim Stanek, a veteran of several Broadway shows, makes a wonderful transformation as Daniel, from struggling, insecure artist to confused but committed caregiver to a success with a future now encumbered by the woman who used to support him.

Yankowitz shines in the pacing of Night Sky and in stitching a patchwork of scenes into an instructive and entertaining whole. Like Anna, Yankowtiz describes a universe willing to tell us marvelous things if we can only learn to listen.

Where and When

  • Baruch Theatre
    55 Lexington Avenue
  • Show Times and Tickets
  • Opening: June 2, 2009
  • Closing: June 20, 2009
  • Run Time: 2 hour, 15 minutes (with intermission)
  • Genre: Drama
  • Advisories: None

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