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With Matthew Broderick and Elizabeth McGovern heading the cast, this feels more like The Starry Vehicle. But, although Kenneth Lonergan has written superb screenplays such as Manchester By the Sea, and his 10-year-old play is wryly observant, it is too discursive to make great drama. Mark, its 52-year-old hero, who lectures at New York’s Hayden Planetarium but feels he has missed his vocation as an astronomer, occasionally reminded me of Uncle Vanya without the rich sense of life that accompanies the Chekhovian consciousness of failure.
Lonergan interweaves a number of stories. The main one concerns Mark’s thwarted dreams and awareness of the gulf between his dull domestic existence and professional preoccupation with the cosmos. But we also follow the fate of his lover, a Puerto Rican single mum who acts as weekend nurse to a testy cancer patient. Lonergan touches on a wide variety of themes: the midlife crisis, the difficulties of parent-child relationships, the mysteries of the universe. There are witty episodes, the best of which shows Mark being censoriously graded by one of his Planetarium students.
But when Mark’s wife attacks him for his “defeated, miserable opinion” of himself, you feel she has a point. There is an essential passivity about Lonergan’s hero that may be true to life but which leaves you hungering for more dynamism.
Broderick, who has a look of ageing boyishness, invests Mark with the right sense of troubled quietude and dry humour: he is always pleasant to watch and has one moment of potential breakdown, just as guests are due to arrive, which would have made a perfect climax. We learn too little about his wife though McGovern plays her expertly as a woman keenly aware of marital drift and domestic boredom; and there is first-rate support from Rosalind Eleazar as Mark’s guilt-ridden lover, Jim Norton as the patient she lovingly attends, and Sid Sagar as the accosting student. Sam Yates directs with due care but, for all its perceptiveness, I felt Lonergan’s play would work even better on the screen.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: The Starry Messenger review – Broderick and McGovern face up to cosmic failures | Theatre