Review: UIC Theatre’s “Stars in the Morning Sky”

 Touching, if limited, performances in “Stars In the Morning Sky”

stars pub 4 UIC Theatre presents:

Stars in the Morning Sky

adapted by Peter Christensen and Yasen Peyankov
directed by Lupa Lopatina Solomon
thru November 22nd  (ticket info)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

stars pub 1 Lupa Lopatina Solomon last directed Stars In the Morning Sky with co-director and translator Yasen Peyankov as a member of the now-defunct European Repertory Theatre. A retelling of Maxim Gorky’s The Lower Depths by Russian playwright Aleksandr Galin, the play depicts the desperate lives of women in prostitution at the opening of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. In an attempt to present a clean face to the world, Soviet authorities have rounded up the city’s sex workers and deposited them on the outskirts of the city in rundown barracks that once served as a mental hospital.

Solomon has honed a well-integrated student production; the cast is a fairly even and cohesive ensemble, set with strikingly imaginative lighting (Carl Ulaszek) and sound (Lea Palmeno) design. At this stage in their craft, all of the students deliver on their characters’ intentions and motivations, while not all face the same challenges. In a play that would test the limits of mature, professional actors, some fall short like horses that have been handicapped from the starting line-up.

Erin Yucus and Rashida KhanBey carry the additional burden of playing older women with more arduous and twisted histories than the rest. Valentina (Yucus) is a hardened Soviet style worker who runs the barracks that house the temporarily homeless whores. Ana (KhanBey) is an older, alcoholic prostitute who, while merciless about her own self-appraisal, acts with instinctive motherliness toward the younger women hauled in. While both actors convey women under lifelong hardship, both also sink heavily into their portrayals with little nuance, suggesting the need for greater life experience as well as technique. Ironically, their characters’ significant moments of sorrow lack the depth to be realistic.

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By contrast, those cast members with roles within their age range fair better. Jessica Roach’s Lora is believably flighty and childlike in her idealism, while Zarinah Ali’s Klara virtually dominates the stage with insouciant energy. Perhaps Carolyn Molloy is the most seriously tested of all the cast, since her character, Maria, becomes assaulted in an attempt to leave the barracks. It’s a role that Molloy unabashedly takes on but also at moments loses her bearings, slipping in and out of convincing interpretation.

UIC Theatre’s production is most successful in creating ensemble and maintaining even, progressive storytelling. The last moment of the play where the tech crew revolves the stage is the only disturbance in the fourth wall and it is worth the payoff—it reveals the banished women waving to the city in pride over the Olympics they have been denied. With all it shortcomings, this production still shows its power to touch the audience.

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Chicago Theater – Best of 2008 (TimeOut Chicago)

Court Theatre's "Caroline or Change", six out of six stars The Hypocrite's "Our Town" "Million Dollar Quartet" at the Apollo Theater Steep Theatre's "Breathing Corpses"

 

TimeOut Chicago‘s Christopher Platt and Kris Vire present their top 10 Chicago theater picks of 2008:

 

1. Caroline or Change  (Court Theatre)
by Tony Kushner
Standouts: Charles Newell (director), Doug Peck (musical director); actors: Kate Fry, E.Faye Butler
     
2. Our Town  (The Hypocrites)
by Thornton Wilder
Standouts: David Cromer (director), actors: Jennifer Grace (as Emily), David Cromer (narrator)
 
     
3. Speech and Debate  (American Theatre Company)
by Stephen Karam
Standouts: PJ Paparelli (ATC Artistic Director); performances: Patrick Andrews, Jared McGuire, Sadieh Rifai
 
     
4. Uncle Vanya (TUTA TheatreChicago)
by Anton Chekhov
Standouts: Zeljko Djukic (director), Yasen Peyankov  and Peter Christensen (translators), Martin Andrew (designer)
 
     
5. Miss Julie  (The Hypocrites)
by August Strindberg
Standouts: Sean Graney (director); performances: Stacy Stoltz, Greg Hardigan
 
     
6. Titus Andronicus  (Court Theatre)
by William Shakespeare
Standouts: Charles Newell (director), ; performances: Timothy Edward Kane, Hollis Resnik
 
     
7. Fake Lake  (The Neo-Futurists)
by Sharon Greene
Standouts: Halena Kays (director), Welles Park pool, Mikhail Fiksel
 
     
8. Breathing Corpses  (Steep Theatre)
by Laura Wade
Standouts: Robin Witt (director), Marcus Stephen (set designer)
 
     
9. Million Dollar Quartet  (Goodman, Apollo Theater)
Standouts: Levi Kreis (as Jerry Lee Lewis), Lance Guest (Johnny Cash), Rob Lyon (Carl Perkins), Eddie Clendening (Elvis Presley)
 
     
10. As Told by the Vivian Girls  (Dog & Pony Theatre)
by Devin de Mayo
Standouts: Devin de Mayo (director)
 

 

To see the TimeOut Chicago description of each of these shows, click here.