Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Dark Stars: The Yin and Yang of Success
Aux Dog Theatre
Review by Rob Spiegel

Also see Stephanie's reviews of Legally Blonde, Death and the Maiden, And Away We Go, and Enchanted April

Irving Sayles
Here's a play about the historical role of the black performer who succeeds by making fun of his race, interwoven with the intimate tale of a contemporary black performer whose career ups and downs have little to do with race, and ultimately little to do with his eventual satisfaction. We come to see the contemporary performer finding happiness—even while success slips away, while the successful historical performer dies young. Welcome to Dark Stars.

In a solo performance Jonathan Council tells the story of missed opportunities at acting success. In the '80s, when he's a teenager, he auditions for Fame. His mom—who detests his acting ambitions—takes the acceptance call and lets it pass, much to Council's later horror. Years later he auditions for Matrix Reloaded in Australia where it's filming and gets the nod. In celebration, he heads off to see New Zealand before the shooting starts. When he heads back to Australia, the government won't let him back in—his visa has expired. Another chance at fame shot down.

Devastated, he returns to a small island off New Zealand to lick his wounds. There he discovers the story of Irving Sayles, an African-American performer from the early 20th century who found stardom in Australia by creating comedy out of racism.

Council compares his story as a New York African American in Australia and New Zealand to Sayles' story, noting differences more than similarities. Where Sayles found fame but died in his forties of a heart attack, Council finds peace on a small island off New Zealand. Rather than contrast and compare, the play is contrast and contrast.

The makings of this play are fascinating. It's Council's story mixed with Sayles story, yet it's written by New Zealand playwright Arthur Meek. According to the script, Council met Meeks while visiting New Zealand. After the play, I asked Council about the fact that it's his story, though written by a professional playwright. He answered, "It's my story, but I'm not a writer."

Needless to say—I think needless—Council does a great job playing himself. He's charming, dramatic, and tender. The blend of his story with Sayles' can be a stretch at times as it's often difficult to see the connection, other than they are black performers down under who had very different experiences. Council's story is the more compelling of the two, since Sayles remains a remote character in the story. We don't get to know what's inside him.

The performance is directed by Rajeev Varma and designed by Sally Tran. The set is spare, a few cutouts of Sayles and assorted characters. Hard to determine the role of the director, other than to say that Council's varied emotional displays were well balanced and purposeful.

This is the second solo play I've seen in the last two weeks. You go years without seeing a solo performance, and then boom. It's a difficult task given that drama thrives on conflict. While inner conflict provides valid ground for storytelling, it's a challenge on the live stage. The goal is to keep the audience riveted without the interest and tension of character exchanges. Council manages this well. He has good material. Not only is it his own life—true and dear—but the script is strong enough to have won Best Non-Fiction Script at the United Solo Theatre Festival in New York in 2013. More and more we're seeing small theatres in Albuquerque with the gumption to present new plays. This is certainly one to see.

Dark Stars, written by Arthur Meek and performed by Jonathan Council, will run at the Aux Dog Theatre on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through October 25, 2015. Tickets are $18 for general, $15 for students. Performances are at 8:00 pm on Friday and Saturday, 3:00 pm on Sunday. Reserve tickets at or by calling 254-7716.

Photo: Courtesy of Arthur Meek

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