Douglas Carter Beane is the king of fey, which is camp that dare not speak its name. His first play for his troupe, Drama Dept. (and isn’t that “Dept.” fey?), was As Bees in Honey Drown, which bees I don’t think do, except perhaps those in his bonnet. Now we have Music From a Sparkling Planet, where the title is again coyly specious.
Three unhappy friends in their thirties – Wags, a lawyer who cannot commit to his girlfriend; Miller, a publicist who cannot commit to his sick boyfriend; and Hoagie, a personal trainer who gets too personal with female clients – keep meeting in a bar to play their beloved escapist game, Trivia, in which they quiz one another about TV esoterica, often about local shows in Philly (they live there, as did Beane) of their childhood in the seventies, in which they are still immersed.
They recall Tamara Tomorrow, the kiddie-show hostess, a purported visitor from the year 3000, complete with space gear, come to introduce Japanese animated movies. Tamara was their favorite, and they decide to track her down for a sentimental visit. The play operates on three levels: the past, with Tamara seen on TV monitors and also onstage as Sharon Phipps, the frustrated theater actress sucked into TV and an affair with married Andy, her producer-director; the present, with the three boy-men in their quixotic search; and the brighter future Tamara painted for the gullible kiddies, which never came to pass.
Times and places continually interpenetrate, there is simultaneous or contrapuntal dialogue, and characters frequently talk to invisible others. This kind of schizoid superimposition is becoming a theatrical cliché, and if you don’t groove on it and TV trivia, you may not join in the aficionados’ laughter. Mark Brokaw has directed with his usual savvy, and the cast – J. Smith-Cameron, T. Scott Cunningham, Ross Gibby, Josh Hamilton, and Michael Gaston – could not be better. Toward the end, the play switches to serious, but for Beane, from fey to serious may hardly constitute a switch.
Hugh Leonard’s A Life is a merry, moving, wise play, compellingly revived by the Irish Rep. Charlotte Moore has directed a winning cast that has only two small flaws: Fritz Weaver, the splendid lead, does not have an Irish accent, and the men speak a bit too loud. But I cannot imagine anyone this profoundly human work would not speak to.