Deanna Noe in ‘Stars in the Night.’ (Photo: Matt Pulliam)
By April Stamm
Things fall apart, families are broken, people hurt, lives are lost and souls ache. Stories like this are ubiquitous and important in the theater. Finding unique ways to tell them can be a noble yet sometimes seemingly herculean task. Stars in the Night — a site-specific, partially interactive theater experience presented by Fireflight Collective and Hillary Ellison — grapples with these classic themes amongst the everything-old-is-new-again streets of DUMBO in Brooklyn.
The journey of a family dealing with loss and sometimes overwhelming grief plays out along the river and in several created intimate environments throughout the neighborhood. Characters sometimes serve as narrator and at other times tour guide to pull you through their tale. Sussing out the who’s who and when’s when is part of the charm and challenge.
The most spectacular thing to watch in Stars in the Night is the scenery, both natural and designed. Choosing the dramatic DUMBO river walk and cobblestone streets is inspired. The looming still partially abandoned and repurposed warehouses, the waves crashing on the rocks, the train raucously chugging overhead on the iconic bridges all frame the production’s air of mystery, anxiety and pain. The indoor space designed by artistic directors Stephanie Feury and Nathan Keyes and sets attributed to the Firelight Collective as a whole is spot on. Crafted with detail and panache, the spaces felt perfectly organic and appropriately lived-in, enhancing the scenes and more importantly the characters inhabiting them.
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“DUMBO spoke to us even before we thought about bringing Stars in the Night to New York. Having the waterfront framed by the two bridges, the cobblestone streets, and the new construction contrasting the old is so cinematic.” -excerpt from @no_proscenium interview #starsinthenightdumbo #firelightcollective #immersivetheatre #dumbobrooklyn #ticketsonsalenow
Performances ran the gamut from awkward to inspired, which is never good, but especially challenging when you don’t have the benefit of a darkened theater and silence to in which to sink yourself. Setting the stage and taking us through the first leg of our journey, The Man with the Orange Tie (Matt Brown, Firelight Collective member) sets the ball rolling on a crooked path. Mr. Brown is not comfortable in his character nor with his tiny audience, and unwittingly, lets us into his stress about the show’s timing and structure with frequent looks at his phone and glances around for the next actor to be at the ready.
William Nicol (TV Criminal Minds, Grey’s Anatomy, film L.A. Slasher, Sun Choke) doesn’t fare much better as a two dimensional Finn, his afflictions are much the same as Brown’s. Finally though, in the last half of the piece, we get what we always seek in theater, an honest and full performance. Deanna Noe (Firelight Collective member, film A Good Girl) as Nicole is truthful and raw while at the same time lyric and brave. Another performance with some real substance, albeit a few sour moments, is Allison Byrnes’s (IGLU, film Wracked) Alex.
As for the general structure and intention of the show, without giving too much away, I can say this: it needs work, quite literally. The concept and design are intriguing, but the production and many performances lack nuance. It’s a good start, but even with a recent L.A. run preceding this, Stars in the Night needs more thought behind it to make the connections clear and the performances more like those of Ms. Noe and Ms. Byrnes: truthful and dynamic. These kind of issues could be solved with more eyes on the script and structure, some recasting and more devotion by the production as a whole.
There is always a reason to take a risk, look with a new perspective and play a song close to the heart with a different instrument. Stars in the Night attempts just that and comes close to giving us a look into love and loss through a different theatrical lense.
Stars in the Night
Presented by Fireflight Collective and Hillary Ellison
Presented in Dumbo, multi-location
Through October 14, 2018
April Stamm is a theater, food, and lifestyle journalist. She is a regular contributor to The Broadway Blog and EDGE Media Network and is a Chef Instructor at the International Culinary Center. Follow her on Instagram at @aprilstamm.