This year’s selection for Walterdale Theatre’s From Cradle to Stage new plays project was one longer work instead of a series of one-acts, Eric Rice’s work Starless. I saw it tonight, and I found it unexpectedly moving. So much so that I had trouble articulating questions at the talkback after the show.
That is a compliment. I guess it’s a compliment to share among the writer, the dramaturge Tracy Carroll, the director Marsha Amanova, and several of the cast members.
Starless is a story about two homeless people, Ralph (Mark Anderako) and Mary (Monica Maddaford), and the people they interact with during one difficult day, a police constable (Dave Wolkowski), a boy (Carter Hockley), a blog reporter (Stephanie O’Neill), an artist/art-vendor (Jim Zalcik), a priest (Zalcik), and a landlord (Wolkowski). The title refers to an advantage of sleeping outdoors over sleeping under a roof, that outdoors you can see the stars. Ralph, the main character, seemed both credible and interesting – physically frail, foulmouthed, dirty, cynical, but at the same time having a clear sense of fairness and a tendency to poetic metaphor. The audience never finds out Ralph’s whole backstory, because he’s not someone who would tell any of the people he encounters that day, and as his love Mary says (approximately – I stopped taking notes), “We don’t tell those stories. Those were just things that happened. We just tell the story that ends with living happily ever after.”
The set was simple but evocative of various outdoor locations – a park, a church doorstep, a coffee shop patio, the back of a low-rent apartment building. Stage lighting is still a mystery to me, so I was astonished to realize at intermission that the floor was actually not green; it was just lit that way during the park scenes. The music at intermission and after the show (Don Henley’s “Starry Starry Night” and a familiar cover of the Beatles’ “Let It Be”) was just perfect, fitting the story and the mood with emotionally familiar song, and I don’t remember now whether there was pre-show music or not. I also appreciated the artist’s painting representing a monochrome version of Van Gogh’s Starry Night (“I call it Van Gogh misplaces his palette”), recalling my recent visit to the original work in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).
Maddaford and Hockley also played characters with enough depth to be intriguing and their own personal challenges. Maddaford played Mary with an appealing serenity and some native shrewdness, and it eventually turned out to be easy to see why she and Ralph were together. Hockley had great facial expressions when he was listening, very believable for a kid who is accustomed to be on the edges of adult conversations that he might disagree with or worry about. His speaking was occasionally difficult to follow, although I’m not sure whether he was too fast, too quiet, or just not making his words distinct.
The minor character who most caught my attention was Jim Valcik’s artist, identified in the program as Vendor, a glib and self-absorbed painter who jumps to assure Ralph he can identify with him but doesn’t listen to him. “Chaos and bars? Yep, that was our art-student life; it was great!”
Starless is playing at the Walterdale through Saturday night, 8 pm curtain. Advance tickets are at Tix on the Square (listed as From Cradle to Stage), and also available at the door. Thursday is 2-for-1 night.