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A CurtainUp Review
Music From a Sparkling Planet
by David Lohrey
In the first act, we are introduced to three men whose sense of loss and abandonment makes them indistinguishable from their dramatic contemporaries. Miller (T. Scott Cunningham), Hoagie (Ross Gibby), and Wags (Josh Hamilton) are thirty-something moderns in search of meaning and hope, sad because they remember innocence but can't find it. When they discover their mutual admiration and love for a one-time local TV hostess, Tamara Tomorrow (J. Smith-Cameron), whose introductions to afternoon children's fare included hopeful messages about life in the future, they make it their mission to find her. A series of scenes take us back to Tamara in TV land and allow us to be seduced by Tamara's beguiling charm. Beane's best writing is to be found in Tamara's improvised predictions of a better tomorrow, which have the effect of the Siren's call on all who listen. Most touching and persuasive is the relationship between Tamara and Andy (Michael Gaston), the TV producer who discovers, loves, and loses her. This tender, unresolved affair between Tamara and Andy provides just the right note of reality in a story otherwise cut off from what makes characters live and breathe. The three men and their quest never connect in the way Tamara and her producer do, this partially due to the poignant ungainliness of Michael Gaston's fine performance. Through him we understand what it is to make do, to live without, to yearn in silence.
J. Smith-Cameron brings her own charms to a role suited to her unique skill at playing ordinary women who possess extraordinary powers. Something about the way she holds her body makes her seem more at home in kitchens and at playgrounds than at cocktail parties and office suites. She could be your mom, or sis, or first love, and this gives her a magical air. She's the classic unglamorous glamour-girl, like Judy Holliday or Shirley MacLaine. Even though the playwright fails to make his three suitors equally interesting, we have no trouble understanding why they have fallen for Ms Smith-Cameron's mystically compassionate Tamara Tomorrow.
Mark Brokaw directs with confidence, although the first act seemed slow. Perhaps, too, it is time to do away with two chairs and a steering wheel as the obligatory scene-mover. It worked brilliantly in Driving Miss Daisy, and was necessary to the success of How I Learned to Drive, but as employed here and in recent works by Richard Greenberg and David Lindsay-Abaire, it is beginning to seem old-hat.
It is in the second act that Beane's play finally takes flight. Beane gives the actors and the director more to work with. One could even go so far as to say that it is only here that the engines get started, for it is in Allen Moyer's marvelously evocative road-side motel that past finally meets present, dreams meet reality, and the story begins. When Miller, Hoagie, and Wags step through that motel door and into Tamara's today, the essential sadness of their quest is revealed. Nostalgia gives way to hope, though, as the "boys" persuade Tamara to revive her career. At one critical moment, tempers flair as Tamara defends the producers who exploited her and explains how trust paved her way to fame. Here the cynical youth get a lesson from the past on why this world is becoming less and less inhabitable. It is an electrifying exchange.
Beane's Music From a Sparkling Planet ends much too soon. Somehow we know that Tamara has a lot more to teach, but when she is taken away, the play stops. No one else has much to say, no one else can hold the stage.
LINKS TO REVIEWS OF PLAYS MENTIONED ABOVE
As Bees in Honey Drown
June Moon (second review)
How I Learned to Drive