While not completely successful on all levels, Susan Yankowitz’s new play Night Sky, which is being presented at the Baruch Performing Arts Center (55 Lexington Avenue) through June 20th, tackles, head on, a very difficult subject to write about for theatrical presentation. Her main character, Anna – a force to be reckoned with, an astronomer and lecturer who needs “six hands and ten brains to cope” (although she does just fine without the extra help) is tragically disabled in a car accident and looses her ability to speak. A condition known as “aphasia”. A condition that ABC-TV reporter Bob Woodruff has had to deal with. Very heady stuff.
I don’t mean that lightly and neither does Ms. Yankowitz. It’s a very serious matter that is treated in a very serious manner – with a small amount of comic relief thrown in as Anna (who is brilliantly portrayed by Jordan Baker) tries to find her lost words and attempts to put those words together. Tries to get out what is trapped within her mind. Relearning words and their meaning. Trying anew to communicate. Sometimes in a charade-like, sounds-like game with those around her. Would a weaker person do as well?
Every nuance of Anna’s strong character turned inside out is beautifully brought to vivid life. An independent, strong woman. Mother of a teenage daughter, Jen (a sometimes selfish, sometimes compassionate Lauren Ashley Carter). Living with her lover Daniel – an opera singer (a guilt ridden, frustrated, trying to compete with Anna’s excellence, an excellent Jim Stanek) – their relationship already strained prior to the accident, she is revising her thesis that she will read in Paris to her peers when everything is suddenly brought to a halt.
In between, we have scenes, mini-lectures by Anna’s colleague, Bill (a fine Tuck Milligan) who makes comparisons about the cosmos, citing parallels between the black hole of the universe and Anna’s condition. The Big Bang Theory – “order destroyed”, “having to begin again”. Lots of talk about “stars”, etc. which detracts from and does not add to the tragic event and how others deal with it despite his many interesting, cosmic inspired ties worn.
Dan Domingues is called upon to play a variety of characters and brings something special to each one. Especially as another aphasic patient trying to relearn his language with the use of flash cards. As wonderful as he is in this mini scene perhaps it should have been given to Anna. There are so many mini scenes – and here we have another example of – is this a screenplay or a theatrical piece? Transitions are awkward and director, Daniella Topol, has not been able to find satisfactory solutions although the rest of her work is pretty good with the actors. Maria-Christina Oliveras also plays multiple parts and shines when trying to understand Anna as she shops for a dress for her daughter’s prom. Daniel Baker and Aaron Meicht are responsible for the sound design and the beautiful and haunting incidental music for the production.
Dealing with someone who is gravely ill is not easy. Anna’s family and friends learn about understanding, commitment and being less selfish. Anna, herself, learns about exploring a new world and her new life. She never gives up. But a little less science and better structuring would help considerably.
NOTE: The Nat’l Aphasia Association Benefit Performance and Gala Reception Thursday June 4th at 7 pm. firstname.lastname@example.org