Light Up the Sky Fails to Ignite

In Act Two of Moss Hart's 1948 comedy Light Up the Sky, a group of theater types await the reviews of the opening night performance of their out-of-town play. They've already spent the first act gloating about how wise they were to have discovered, produced, or starred in this play, written by a first-time author overflowing with integrity, naivete, and fear that he's penned a flop.

These people, although fictional, would have been more than a little disappointed in my own opinions of them and their work. Because, in Theatre Artists Studio's production of Hart's play about a play, these theater folk light up the sky with barely a glimmer.

To be fair, Hart's play is less an entertainment than an hours-long ax-grinding. He wants, it seems, to make it plain that playwrights are poor and put-upon, their words spoiled by greedy actors and disregarded by nasty producers and egotistical directors. It's easy to understand why this troupe, made up entirely of career thespians, has chosen this play, a colossal inside joke that's really only fun if you're of the theater. They probably think it's hilarious, while the rest of us are left wondering.

There's little mystery about the quality of the acting, most of which rivaled that of the mechanical parrot that appears onstage throughout. I enjoyed Judy Rollings' wisecracking Manhattan mom, and thought Shana Bousard gave the best performance as a fast-talking producer's wife. But most of the acting was either broad as the side of a barn or too manic. There's some subtlety in Hart's writing, but not in his dialogue for these mostly self-absorbed people, all of whom appear to be talking to themselves rather than to one another. The result of all this lousy acting is ironic, as it diminishes the quality of Hart's script about how actors and others screw up the work of the playwright.

Blame first-time director Patti Suarez, an actress who might do well to remain on stage where we can see her. She appears to have approached each performance in this production as an actor might: singularly. The result is a roomful of people who don't see one another, a series of monologues spoken to other actors who don't appear to hear them. If Suarez absolutely must expand her theatrical horizons, she might consider set design. With a tiny budget, she has dressed the stage for Light Up the Sky beautifully — with furniture and props, that is. I found myself staring at the draperies and lamps for most of the evening.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela