Astronomical Sunset is a world-premiere play by Robert Lewis Vaughn. Vaughn has been a long-time collaborator with Curious Theatre company, premiering several previous works with the company. According to the Curious website, Astronomical Sunset is “the story of a couple torn apart in a social media scandal… Ripped from the headlines and teeming with unexpected twists and turns, nothing is as it seems in this ever-changing thriller. This play will have you on the edge of your seat!” The play tells the story of a Jim and Liz, hiding in her parents’ remote home, after Jim is sued for creating a website on which a teenager posted pornographic pictures of his underage girlfriend. Jim’s ensuing guilt over this accused crime sets the stage for his anxiety and paranoia, and his wife’s futile attempts to dislodge him from this rut.
Astronomical Sunset Skirts Questions About Modern Technology
HE SAID: This play was somewhat advertised as an indictment of social media by looking at the long-lasting consequences of its abuse; a topic which is incredibly timely given the recent tragedies resulting from cyber-bullying. Had it actually engaged in the debate concerning social media and the internet, instead of using it merely as a back story (that the audience never really knows that much about), it probably would have been a more engaging play. However, Astronomical Sunset is actually a rough examination on how dwelling on your regrets and guilt can lead to the deterioration of you and those around you; an idea full of potential had it not been built on the foundation of unbelievable premises and diluted with the disconnected elements of a mystery-thriller.
SHE SAID: I was also excited by the description of the play that promised the examination of an incredibly fresh and relevant topic. Instead, aside from a few vague references to an internet crime, the play actually feels like it could happen any time in the last few decades. Perhaps that is part of the message – that questions of responsibility, guilt, and absolving yourself of which you cannot control are timeless. For the first act, I actually did find it suspenseful, as the details about Gary’s accused crime were released slowly. However, I never felt that much of the mystery was resolved — I wasn’t exactly clear on the details of the incident, and I was disappointed that none of the characters had changed over the course of the play.
Stagnant Characters Would Benefit From Earlier Reveal
HE SAID: Most of that “suspense” was built on the mysterious nature of Jared, played by Ben Sloane who repeatedly broke into the house of Jim and Liz because of some odd interest with Jim (Brian Landis Folkins). The problem with that set up is that no man, especially one who is so paranoid of people coming to get him that he carries around a bat non-stop, would have a long conversation with a person who just broke into his house, let alone multiple scenes. By the time the boy’s real motives were (a bit too directly) revealed, I wasn’t invested enough to be moved. While Sloane gave a decently creepy (yet at times a tad overly affected), I never connected to his scenes because their premise failed from the beginning.
SHE SAID: I also thought that the reveal of the true nature of Lily and Jared came a little too close to the end of the play. Especially since there was so little plot or character development in the first three-quarters of the play, I think that the reveal could have been earlier, allowing for a fuller exploration of the new world that the audience has been exposed to and the meta-physical aspect of the show. Then, for example, it might have been clearer why Lily periodically directly addressed the audience, which happened too few times to become a successful device.
Performances Strong Despite Difficult Script
HE SAID: Those direct addresses were confusing, but Lynnsey Ooten as Lily actually gave my favorite performance. All of the performers had to fight against a script that left characters stagnant for much of the show, but Ooten found a way to become interesting and flush out the minimal arch in her story. My biggest frustration came from the character Jim. I shared in his wife’s frustration that I wanted him to do something, anything, other than sit on the couch grasping his bat. Even if you forget that there is no way he would actually talk with the kid that broke into his house, those scenes didn’t advance his character much until late in the second act. I was happy that Folkins as Jim eventually had a moment to show some emotion late in the second act because he was able to show his caged up talent. If I been able to see more of his humanity in earlier in the show, I might have been more invested in him and that breakdown would have paid off more.
SHE SAID: For once we agree on our favorite performance! I also thought Ooten did an excellent job. She handled a lot of language very well and remained interesting, engaging and natural. I thought that Alison Waltrous as Liz was just fine, but the role wasn’t one that allowed her to shine. Folkins as Jim was convincingly stagnant, which was unfortunately not a typical goal of an actor. I thought that Sloane as Jared was originally interesting, but I lost interest as his character didn’t change much throughout the show (until the very end).
Design Triumphs in Curious Word Premiere
THEY SAID: Curious Theatre’s world premiere production of Astronomical Sunset is excellent where the design elements are concerned. The multi-tiered set (by Greg Loftus), intricate lights (by Shannon McKinney) and sound (by Jason Ducat), all make for a very aesthetically pleasing world for the audience. However, the design is the best part of the show. Had the script been a timely addition to the conversations around social media abuses, an exploration into the negative effects of not dealing with guilt, or just a fun mystery-thriller it would have been more successful. The problem was that it was a tiny bit of all three, without fully becoming any of them. This ambiguity left the characters stagnant and prevented us from truly diving into the piece. While the gamble on producing brand new material may not have paid off this time around, we applaud Curious for taking on the risk and promoting original works.