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A CurtainUp Review
Stars in the Night

"If I had to do it again, life that is, I would do it all exactly the same, no regrets... because that's life, when you love hard, you lose hard. It's complicated. I know that now. But it was mine. It was my story."
Stars in the Night
Jennifer Sacks (Photo: Matt Pulliam)
If you've spent any time around the Brooklyn Bridge Park in DUMBO recently, there's a chance you've passed by a man wearing a bright orange tie. While Brooklyn has its fair share of fashion eccentrics, there's more to this conspicuous accessory than meets the eye. The man, Matt Brown, is an actor, and his character (simply named "Man in the Orange Tie") is a gatekeeper of sorts, the first person you encounter in Stars in the Night, an immersive theater piece staged in multiple locations around the waterfront neighborhood.

A production of Firelight Collective—whose artistic directors, Stephanie Feury and Nathan Keyes, wrote and directed the piece—Stars in the Night is a time-hopping journey through several interrelated stories of love and loss. Once fully laid out, the overarching plot seems simple, yet from within, the story takes some time to reveal itself and unravel.

Some connections are indicated rather subtly. Easily overlooked objects might be as telling as, or even more telling than, the dialogue, which often favors emotional projection over specifics. While torment tends to come through very clearly, the reasons for it can be opaque, and elaborations can be burdened by cliches.

On a more practical level, a lot can get lost while moving between or adjusting to different environments. This is especially true early on, when you're standing under the bridge with trains passing overhead. It takes time to block out the outside world and tune into the play, and trying to discern the scope of the work—who is a performer, what the rules are, etc.—can initially induce overload.

As far as the story goes, Stars may set up more than it delivers. At the end of the experience, members of my group (each of which is capped at twelve people, with five groups running on the half hour every performance night) stood around, waiting for a conclusion that would more directly link the various plot threads. Someone went into the bar outside of which we had been left, thinking an actor's suggestion to "Ask for Tanya" might be a clue to a next stage of the journey. Another person recalled the Man in the Orange Tie's vague suggestion that we might or might not see him again.

These turned out to be red herrings. The play is more like a ghost tour than a scavenger hunt or an escape room. The only structured opportunity you have to shape your own experience is a choice to accept a cocktail and partake of a charcuterie board (certainly not a bad choice to have). A question or two is posed to members of the group, but generally, Stars in the Night is more interested in your attention than your participation.

One reason this is necessary is a bold staging in the midst of the real world. This is a notable departure from similar productions that have taken place within transporting, tightly controlled environments like Sleep No More's home at the the McKittrick Hotel, the Williamsburg church that hosts Then She Fell, or the Lincoln Center backstage featured in Ghost Light. Stars, on the other hand, moves between a number of indoor and outdoor spaces over about a half mile. It is subject to weather, the din of New York, quizzical looks or interjections from bystanders, and countless other sources of interference. (My group was forced to dodge around a group of marathoners training in Jay Street.)

It can be hard to get lost in the fantasy of theater when so much around you pulls you in the other direction. And yet there is a magic to the fact that any of this works at all, with each handoff between performers (you rarely encounter more than one at a time) feeling increasingly natural as you get further immersed in the piece. Earlier encounters where you're treated like an audience member tend to feel forced. But a turning point comes a few characters in, when you begin to follow a woman who acts as if you aren't even there.

It is at this point where the construct of an immersive experience starts to fade into naked emotional authenticity and vulnerability. The best moments of Stars in the Night are the ones like these, that offer the audience the voyeuristic opportunity to enter into a private space and see into lives that aren't their own. Nicole (Deanna Noe), even seems to realize this herself, excitedly inviting you into a flashback set somewhere where neither you or she is supposed to be.

This is, of course, a basic premise of most theater, but the novelty here is the disorienting phenomenon of the fictional theatrical world being permeated by "real life." If a show like Sleep No More is the live theater equivalent of virtual reality, then this is the analogue for augmented reality—not replacing the world, but mapping something strange and intriguing onto it.

My group's reaction shows that there's an opportunity for Stars in the Night to be plotted a bit more tightly, yes. But it also evinces our immersion into its world. As we looked for what might come next, revisited what we'd seen, and speculated as to how it all tied together, it was clear we'd been transported somewhere, and only reluctantly were we starting to return. For a few moments, the night felt quiet. Only after walking off on my way did I notice the noise from the trains that had never stopped clamoring by overhead.

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Stars in the Night
Written and directed by Stephanie Feury and Nathan Keyes
with Matt Brown (Man in the Orange Tie), Allison Byrnes (Alex), Davonna Dehay (Alice), David Haley (Clay), Hannah Broderick Kraft (Caitlin), William Nicol (Finn), Deanna Noe (Nicole), and Jennifer Sacks (Jamie)
Production Supervisor: Matthew B. Pulliam
Production Stage Manager: Nick Auer
Sets and Costumes: Firelight Collective
Assistant Stage Managers: Allie Marotta and Rachel Karp
Presented by Firelight Collective and Hillary Ellison
Running Time: Approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes with no intermission
Performances begin at the Empire Stores in Brooklyn's DUMBO neighborhood; meeting instructions are provided to ticket holders prior to performances
From 9/13/18; opening 9/16/18; closing 10/14/18
Reviewed by Jacob Horn based on 9/14/18's 8:30 pm performance

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