Stars in Her Eyes
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
June 4, 2006
Some may say that storytelling is a lost art, especially when it comes to the oral tradition. To me this is a very sad prognosis. While the written word is certainly a remarkable innovation it can never replace the power, nuance, and performance qualities of the oral tradition of storytelling. Thankfully, we have folks like Clay McLeod Chapman keeping the tradition alive, and in the case of his new show, Stars in Her Eyes, it's not only alive it's blooming.
The show is made up of four relatively short monologues performed by four different actors. The ensemble helps each storyteller by providing either visual aids or a very brief scene partner. The first story involves an actress who helps doctors practice their bedside manner by allowing them to give her bad news about a pregnancy. The second story also centers around an actress, but this one has had a long career consisting of tiny roles in movies. The third story is about a man who has been imprisoned for the violent murder of his family and yet he's negotiating the rights to the movie of his story (and its sequel). The final story is about a girl who is obsessed with the fateful Jayne Mansfield car wreck.
I think what appeals to me the most about Chapman's writing is his casual approach to quirky subjects and characters. He doesn't inflate his stories or characters with bizarre events or eccentric personality traits. He instead tears his characters open and shows us what makes them tick by pinpointing a particular neurosis. For example, what do you think happens to the girl who has been playing the role of the pregnant mother that receives bad news about her pregnancy when she herself finds out that she's pregnant?
Chapman's director, Moritz von Stuelpnagel, does a brilliant job staging these monologues. He leaves very few moments of inaction. Monologue plays can sometimes be like sitting through an acting class after you've already done your monologue, but von Stuelpnagel keeps the eyes moving about the stage and yet he finds moments to bring it down to a single action or gesture. His opening sequence is an unforgettable attention grabber.
The ensemble pushes the show into excellence. Erica Newhouse is painfully endearing as the grieving pregnant mother/actor. Liz Wisan is bubbly and sincere as the actress who puts her all into every tiny role. Chris Thorn slam-dunks his role as the prisoner that sells out. (This story was the only one that really fits the theme of the festival.) And finally Caitlin McDonough-Thayer is explosive as the crazy southern girl obsessed with celebrity death.
The collaboration of great storytelling, directing, and acting makes Stars in Her Eyes a shining star. It should not be missed.