another review…

September 12, 2008

Check out Jean Lowerison’s review of Night Sky in the Gay and Lesbian Times:

Of words (too few and too many) and the birth of rock ‘n’ roll
Published Thursday, 11-Sep-2008 in issue 1081
‘Night Sky’
Astronomer and professor Anna (Seema Sueko) lectures about the mysteries of the universe, asking students to consider why planets spin, how many universes there are and the existence of black holes (“If a black hole is truly black, and if it really is a hole, how can we be sure it’s there?”).
Anna’s self-absorbed life is busy, stimulating, even chaotic as she tries to handle her job, the moodiness of teenage daughter Jennifer (Bibi Valderrama) and her relationship with live-in lover and budding opera singer Daniel (Tom Andrew).
One night, communication problems with Jen and an argument with Daniel cause her to storm out of the house; minutes later, a traffic accident leaves her with a brain injury and robs her of her means of livelihood and, indeed, selfhood: words. She is aphasic, “Anna Aphasia” as she comes to call herself, unable to access the words that have made her who she is.
Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company presents Susan Yankowitz’s Night Sky through Sept. 21 at La Jolla Playhouse’s Mandell Weiss Forum Studio Theatre. Siobhan Sullivan directs on David F. Weiner’s splendid set featuring Anna’s living room flanked by two “stairways to the stars” – multilevel steps and platforms connected by a middle platform, where the various scenes play out. Overhead the stars twinkle.
Sueko anchors the show with a heartbreaking performance as Anna, struggling to break through her silent shell. Frustration, longing, disappointment play over her face as she is forced back to the beginning to learn words and associations. Still, there is humor as she calls a computer a “confuser,” names love “glue” and describes her situation as “elephants on tongue.” And there is actual joy when she gets something right. But the road is long and slow.
Meanwhile, Daniel is forced into dual unfamiliar roles: father, trying to teach the bewildered Jen how to talk to her mother; and caretaker, which demands more of him than he feels able to give, especially when she berates him for acting as interpreter for a journalist who wants to write a story about her. Andrew captures the touchy situation of the caregiver, looking for the line that must not be crossed between enough help and too much.
Valderrama portrays a typical teenager well enough, but needs to slow down: she talks too fast not only for her mother but for this audience member.
Also in Anna’s life are the patient speech therapist (Nicole Gabriella Scipione), another aphasia victim (Brian Mackey) and Anna’s colleague Bill (Justin Snavely).
Scipione and Mackey are convincing in their functional rather than dramatic roles; Snavely’s Bill may induce a few guilt pangs, representing friends who postpone visiting out of fear of not knowing what to say.
Statistics tell us that about one million people in the United States are afflicted with aphasia. Yankowitz wrote Night Sky at the request of director Joseph Chaikin, who has continued to work after a stroke rendered him aphasic in 1984. Chaikin also suggested the central character be an astronomer.
Anyone who has known someone with a long-term problem such as aphasia, dementia or Alzheimer’s will identify with the hopes, fears and frustrations of Yankowitz’s characters. Night Sky reminds us both “what a piece of work is man” and how close we all are to falling into a black hole that could rob us of ourselves.
Mo’olelo scores with this thoughtful piece.
Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company’s production of Night Sky plays through Sept. 21 at the Mandell Weiss Forum Studio Theatre. Shows Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday at 2:30 p.m. For tickets call 619-342-7395 or visit

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