The Astronomer's Triangle
nytheatre.com review by Matt Freeman
March 24, 2005
The love triangle gets a loving new look in The Astronomer’s Triangle. now playing at the downtown warehouse/loft space Studio 5. Using clippings and influences from everything from CNN to Charles Mee, playwright Jordan Seavey and Collaboration Town announce themselves as far more than a young Open Theatre retread. There is mathematics, astronomy, music, and stagecraft here. But it’s sentiment that holds the center of this new, involving play... and it’s sentiment this deftly integrated that makes this play such a rare entertainment.
The Astronomer’s Triangle is the third New York City appearance of Collaboration Town, a young group of Boston University graduates who may just turn the term “groupthink” into a fashionable one. After their introduction to the New York stage with the satirical This is a Newspaper at the FringeNYC Festival two years ago, they came roaring with The Trading Floor, a fictionalized reenactment of the ACT UP protests of the price of AIDS medication. While it’s early to call this newest work a departure, it has the trappings of one. And a successful one at that.
The story is often told: boy meets girl, boy introduces girl to friend, friend and girl fall in love, and jealousy rears its ugly head. The twist? Our “boy” is the Cartographer, who is partial to unorthodox maps, “touchmaps” for example, and his “girl” is a waitress who can locate her as-yet-unmapped star by its location in her body. The Cartographer’s friend is the Astronomer: a young misanthrope who is obsessed with celestial bodies.
As the play progresses, narrated by the Cartographer, it forms a mishmash memory play, complete with well-written comedy, carefully composed dance pieces, and explorations of the relationship between the world around us and the world inside us. While I’m a bit hazy on what exactly the piece is trying to say about love and people and the stars, what struck me is how adept they seem to be at building connections. Seavey’s work is pulled from countless pieces and clips; the effect is of a patchwork that finds his waitress, mathematics, map-making, love, physics, music, astronomy, and astrology as pieces of a tapestry.
In the main roles are playwright Seavey as the Cartographer, Boo Killebrew as the Waitress, and Geoffrey Decas as the Astronomer. Of the three, Decas presents his role with the least amount of effort and is therefore the most engaging. Killebrew is a force, perhaps a bit too forceful for a Waitress, and her tightly wound persona occasionally becomes uncorked when it seems better bottled. Nonetheless, at her best, she’s eminently charming and inventive. Seavey’s Cartographer doubles as the Narrator and is therefore the most detached, which plays well to his strengths.
Supporting the trio as actors are Matthew Hopkins, listed as “head director” as well as performing the role of a rather foppish Astrologer; the charming Terri Gabriel, who is deftly paired with TJ Witham in one of the play’s more magical moments; and Jack Wernke, whose main supporting role is the Mathematician, in a sweet side story. As an ensemble and in their small roles, they are uniformly excellent.
The look of the show is a mixed bag of found objects and odd costume design. I found the ensemble’s design initially distracting (green tights are a hard sell in 2005) but the group commit and make it work. They make excellent use of the far edges of “Studio 5,” which is essentially a white loft space. Curtains frame the central playing area and hide the diner and the astronomer’s home respectively; it’s a surrounding, visually catchy choice. The music, by company member (and actress) Jesica Avellone and Brandon Walcot, moves us from the folksy into musical theatre and even a little bit of pop, well establishing the play's tone.
As Collaboration Town moves forward, I expect that we’ll see them return to both satire and politics from time to time. I hope they return to this more sentimental place as well. It’s a challenging and well traveled place for a young company to go while resisting cliche (they seemed stumped by how to end it, for example), but The Astronomer’s Triangle proves them more than up to the task. It is a true pleasure, having familiarity with this group from previous works, to see them adventure and grow.