While I tend to cover a lot of major Broadway productions in my capacity as New York editor for Stage Directions, I occasionally take a journey into the world of off-Broadway, far removed from the glitz, glamour and often oversized production values of the Great White Way. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a lot of Broadway fare — such as the wickedly satirical Avenue Q, glorily gory Lieutenant of Inishmore and the epic Wicked — but I have found a treasure trove of original works in smaller theaters.
Night Sky is one of those gems. Reportedly last seen on a New York stage fifteen years ago, about three years after this play first emerged off-Broadway, Jordan Baker gives a powerful, award-worthy performance as a brilliant astronomer who, after quarreling furiously one night with her opera singer boyfriend, runs into the street and gets hit by a car. When she awakens in a hospital bed, she cannot speak coherently and must comes to terms with the fact that she has been stricken with aphasia, an inability to speak conventionally that is the result of a brain injury. While she struggles to regain her vocabulary and learns to communicate in unorthodox ways, her boyfriend Daniel (Jim Stanek) and teenage daughter Jennifer (Lauren Ashley Carter) become enlightened about what it really means to communicate and what the true value of words are. A parallel theme running through the show deals with unlocking the mysteries of the cosmos, much like with those of the human brain.
Baker’s performance is heartbreaking. It’s hard enough to quickly transform from a erudite, brilliant astronomer into someone struggling with basic linguistics, but it’s harder to stay in that mode for another hour or more onstage. And Stanek, Carter and the rest of the cast — Tuck Milligan, Maria-Christina Oliveras and the versatile Dan Domingues in numerous roles, including that of an aphasic patient — back her up with solid, heartfelt performances.
Directed by Daniella Topol and written by Susan Yankowitz, the show ends its run at the Baruch Performing Arts Center on June 20th. Do yourself a favor and take a deep look into this Night Sky. Its revelations will stir your soul.