The Naked Eye Planets Is Worth Seeing
While it might not be the most aptly titled play, The Naked Eye Planets sure does impress audiences with its solid all around performance. Playing at the American Theatre of Actors now through March 25th, The Naked Eye Planets is the inaugural stage play from the emerging theater company Coyote REP – proving this theater company is one to keep an eye on.
Press materials describe The Naked Eye Planets as "a drama following ten residents of a small apartment complex on the cusp of a rare astronomical phenomenon." While the first half of this synopsis is accurate, the "astronomical phenomenon" statement is a mere sub-bullet in an otherwise thorough outline of an intricate play. The cast of characters seems immense at first for an Off-Broadway production, with a total of ten characters all together, but within a few minutes from the curtain, audiences easily grasp the storyline based on the superb writing of Rebecca Tourino and flawless direction of Magdalena Zira. Early on, seeds are planted for later plot developments that end up producing sometimes predictable, yet sometimes surprising outcomes. As audiences meet each character, they are either bluntly directed to understand the relationship, such as a mother and daughter, or audiences are left guessing for several scenes to determine the dynamic between others. The balance of the obvious with the somewhat disguised character connections offers audiences enough information to know what's going on and enough holes in the storyline to keep them wanting more.
The set design produced by Jen Varbalow, Carlo Adinolfi and Elaine Sable perfectly captures the mind's picture of a California apartment courtyard. There are two levels of apartments to simulate the first and second levels, with each of the six apartments distinctly painted and decorated in different ways to mirror the variety of characters the play encapsulates. As audiences watch the play, there is so much to take in – the set with all its detail, the revolving door of characters going on and off stage each time offering more pieces to their story – that suddenly everyone is engrossed in the storyline. The action moves quickly – doors open and doors close, people come and go – making the audiences' view as if they are another neighbor in the complex quietly observing the lives of others. It is this point that leads one to conclude why the play is so enticing. Besides a great storyline – minus the astronomical phenomenon – the script offers a slice of everyday life. Each character's story is engaging enough to warrant observation as his or her drama unfolds. If audiences were really living in the apartment complex, they would all be compelled to watch.
Solid writing and direction is matched 100 percent by solid acting. Since there are many in the cast with just as many storylines, it's tough to determine who the main characters are. However, every player has their chance to shine. The production contains an impressive cast, ranging from stage veterans like Maria Cellario (The Royal Family, Fugue in a Nursery) to younger actors such as Amanda Sayle, a recent graduate of the Two Year Conservatory at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting. In between this range, there are eight other extraordinary actors who take on their roles and own them. Sayle is a pleasure to watch perform as she perfectly embodies the disgruntled teenager role of Madeleine. She effortlessly captures the teenager everyone knows – a likeable girl with a bit of an attitude who's in the process of getting comfortable with who she is. Sayle's mannerisms are spot on. She interprets Madeleine as an intelligent but moody character and audiences are lucky enough to get a sneak peak of her coming into her own. Madeleine is forming her own opinions, standing up for herself and falling in love. In a cast of ten where every actor truly deserves applause, it could be tough to stand out. Yet somehow Sayle manages to quietly draw audiences into the Madeleine character, making them glad she did so.
The great acting of the entire cast rests on the writing of Rebecca Tourino and the direction of Magdalena Zira – a potent one two three punch. Although Tourino's play focuses more on the group dynamics of residents in an apartment complex rather than a "rare astronomical phenomenon" that receives ten lines of dialogue at best, Tourino's writing skills give the performance an added edge to any other production out there. It's a performance about everyday people and occurrences which is the essence of why The Naked Eye Planets is so enticing. Audiences watch as a silent partner taking everything in while they are allowed to form their own opinions of each character. While the "rare astronomical phenomenon" may not occur, The Naked Eye Planets does provide the opportunity to witness a four star performance tucked away on another Off-Broadway stage.
The Naked Eye Planets is playing through March 25th Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm and Saturday and Sunday at 2pm at the American Theatre of Actors located at 314 West 54th Street. Please call 1-800-838-3006 or visit www.brownpapertickets.com for more information.
Photo credit: Ryan Jensen; 1. Sean Tarrant and Jeanne LaSala, 2. Amanda Cayle and Maria Cellario, 3. Sean Tarrant and Amanda Sayle, background Glenn Kalison