Music from a Sparkling Planet
Midwest premiere from new troupe wants to sparkle but merely twinkles
|Eclectic Theatre Company presents|
|Music from a Sparkling Planet|
Review by Clint May
There’s something so appealing and ultimately crushing about an optimistic view of the future—and the relationship of TV to its audience—that is summed up by the cult classic animation, Futurama. As this production deals with a cult classic TV show, it’s quite apt to quote another with a scene where a character must justify his fanatic love of the original Star Trek.
BENDER: “…why is [Star Trek] so important to you?”
FRY: “Because it…it taught me so much…But most importantly, when I had no
friends, it made me feel like maybe I did
LEELA: “Well, that is touchingly pathetic.”
Music from a Sparkling Planet—the premiere show of Eclectic Theatre Company—wants to be touching with its pathetic characters, and at times, it can be. A lot of people feel a longing for a past when it seemed like Mr. Rogers was talking directly to you through the TV, telling you the world was good and you were great. Such nostalgia can indeed be pathetic in the truest meaning of the word: worthy of pity. The three men in search of an escape from their dreary present to a past with a better vision of the future are, unfortunately, not pitiable people. They are self-absorbed man-children with a mid-life crisis, a trope becoming increasingly common in both movies, television, and theatre. Far more engrossing is the woman who once and continues to hold their dreams in her ample cleavage. Despite her charms, there’s a lot of missed opportunity to explore just what gives rise to stunted adults, and what (if anything) the people in the box owe their audience for promises unkept.
In a dual timeline, we flicker from the early-to-mid 1970s to the turn of this century. Three men with a vast repertoire of television history meet nightly at a bar to forget their troubles in trivia and beer in the year 2001. There’s personal trainer ‘Hoagie’ (Adam Kander), public relations guru Miller (Patrick Tierney), and lawyer Wags (Michael Woods). Each one is at a personal impasse as they near their forties, and they find comfort in the exploration of meaningless conversations regarding which animated character is the sluttiest in history (Betty of the Flintstones. Bam-Bam looked nothing like Barney). When the topic turns to a favorite local host of their childhood, their wistfulness turns to action when they can’t face adult responsibility in their private lives. Instead, they take to the road to hunt down the erstwhile prognosticator from the year 3000 who promised a future of technological wonders.
Back in the groovy 70s, an aspiring stage actress is taken under the wing of smarmy producer Andy (Andrew J. Pond) to be transformed into the television personality Tamara Tomorrow (Lisa Savegnago). Initially resistant, she’s a natural improviser who quickly rockets to the top of her ratings bracket while simultaneously stealing the married Andy’s heart. When life and fame doesn’t pan out as planned, she takes a dive and disappears into the obscurity that the three man-boys wish to rescue her from some 25 years later.
Billed as a story of hope and redemption, it’s a little difficult to see how these exiles from the island of misfit boys are redeemed by their journey. Tony-nominated Beane’s script doesn’t give those abandoned a voice. When that includes a mysteriously ill boyfriend and a pregnant girlfriend, those are some pretty hefty things to have abandoned to pursue a fantasy. Redemption requires sacrifice and suffering to be compelling, and I don’t see these three suffering much beyond their own avoidance of the mantle of adulthood (it’s a little telling that you never really see a story about a woman similarly arrested in development). Just once it’d be nice to see an edifying tale where there’s a genuine price to pay for puerility instead of just being allowed to revel in one’s own crapulence. Music ends on a twist and we never really see if Wags’ girlfriend takes him back or Miller’s boyfriend forgives his absconding.
This is an amiable cast, with Savegnago and Pond being the real draw. Kander, Tierney, and Woods have the appropriate bromantic chemistry and comedic moments (this is billed as a comedy, after all, despite the darker overtones). Unfortunately it’s not quite enough to elevate some well-worn tropes and one-dimensional characters. Belew’s direction needs to up the urgency and cut out some of the more cinematic elements such as lines spoken in tandem to create crossovers from the past to present (it’s an interesting idea, but it ends up muddling dialogue instead of drawing intriguing parallels).
Music from a Sparkling Planet constantly reminds us of these people’s loneliness without exploring much in the way of what created it, which makes them less sympathetic than they could be. Has the man-child character become so ingrained that we just assume that’s how men of that age behave? As a 30-something man myself, I’m especially immune to empathy for men who can’t seem to stop being adolescents (“Grow up already!” just keeps shouting in my mind). Rather than hope and redemption, I saw a cautionary tale: Mere wishful thinking about the future can be destructive when it never becomes the work necessary to actually create it. All things tarnish with time, and only with an effort to move forward—not backward—can we make it sparkle.
Music from a Sparkling Planet continues through November 18th at Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (map), with performances Thursdays thru Saturdays 8pm, Sundays 2pm. Tickets are $22-$27, and are available by phone (773-935-6875) or online through OvationTix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at eclectic-theatre.com. (Running time: 2 hours, includes an intermission)
Lisa Savegnago (Tamara Tomorrow), Andrew J. Pond (Andy), Adam Kander (‘Hoagie’), Patrick Tierney (Miller), Michael Woods (Wags)
behind the scenes
David Belew (director), Scott J. Sumerak (set designer), Jeff Irlbeck (lighting designer), Julane Sullivan (costume designer), Mara Sullivan (Stage Mangager)