nytheatre.com review by Robert Weinstein
January 10, 2010
Silver Stars, Brokentalkers' song cycle now playing at The Public as part of the Under The Radar Festival, features ten men speaking and singing the experiences of eight older Irish gay men. They range from short to tall, slight to round, bearded to clean-shaven, business-suited to sittin'-'round-the-house casual. They look like people you'd see on the street, in a subway, at work, or in a bar. They look, in short, like people you see everyday and never think about again.
Directors Feidlim Cannon and Gary Keegan use this familiarity to great advantage. They move the men around the stage with economy, purpose, and ease but if you look closer, there is style in the simplicity. The actors never smile and they rarely break eye contact with the audience. They seldom gesture. They speak and sing without emotions. But the strength of their speech—combined with their subtly stylized performances—radiates dignity and perfectly conveys the depth, humor, and emotion of the stories making up this intriguing production.
The stories were compiled from interviews playwright/composer Sean Millar conducted with gay men in Ireland— or those who left Ireland to live in more accepting societies (usually the United States). Each story is introduced with a single name projected onto a large video screen; the stories are presented in a variety of ways. In the opening story, "Stephan"—about a hitchhiker catching a ride with two Benedictine Monks in Italy who ends up attending Pope John Paul II's funeral—the entire cast tells the story one sentence at a time, alternating pace and rhythm. "Richard" utilizes the video screen, showing pictures of a couple at various points in their relationship while one man stands in front of a microphone telling the story of that couple's life together and the loss that accompanies it. And in "John," the most visually mesmerizing piece in the show, one man dons a pair of glasses with eye's painted on them and sits with his back to the audience. A video camera projects his face onto the large screen as he lip-synchs the pre-recorded story of a man whose reconciliation with his own homosexuality comes through a most unlikely source.
In addition to the songs, which are alternately spoken and sung, Millar matches his stories to soundscapes that enhance the mood and ideas contained within. He scores "Stephan" with what sounds like chamber music, adding an element of religion to the absurdity of his heroes' experience. In "Bernard," Millar underscores a slide show of New York's St. Patrick's Day parade, combining plaintive music with the bustle of crowded streets. But Millar, Cannon, and Keegan know when to leave their stories alone, as is the case with "Robert," in which a father confronts his own homophobia when his son tells him he is gay. The lack of ambient noise recognizes that a man's voice—its pauses and inflections, its stops and starts—can be its own form of music.
Overall, these stories feel somewhat familiar, which could give the show a cynical "been-there-done-that" feeling. Anyone with a passing familiarity with the history of gay rights in the United States—and New York City in particular—has undoubtedly heard similar stories of societal attitudes toward homosexuality; of men and women confronting their sexuality; of parental acceptance or abhorrence. And I have to admit, those thoughts crossed my mind. What makes this production out of the ordinary though, is the unique way it presents its stories. The tales in Silver Stars cover the last 20 years in Ireland, a time when homosexuality was just beginning to be dealt with by the Irish as a culture. The United States has been dealing with these issues for longer but the struggle still exists. It can seem so commonplace so as not to exist at all. But if so, what is it still doing here?