False Stars—a title that never quite jibes with this well observed character study—takes place in the Mississippi home of an elderly neurobiology professor Larry never seen, who is recovering slowly from a serious stroke. His caretaker Mac (Ryan Molloy, refreshingly energetic) is gay. He’s caught practically in flagrante when eager-beaver graduate student Peg (Jules Forsberg-Lary, earnest and believable) appears carrying a “cheerful” bouquet. She’s been crashing at the house, pretty much uninvited, to get in Larry’s good graces.
Also insinuating herself is Lillian (a strong-willed Marissa Carpio) who is married to Jorge (an amusingly emotionally torn Felipe Bonilla) who’s been having a surreptitious affair with Mac. Lillian, who is in the dark about her husband’s infidelity, is in direct competition with Peg for academic standing.
Add to the mix, Larry’s child, gender-indefinite Mychal (brilliantly played by a relatively subdued Ashton Muñiz) and Mychal’s childhood friend, handsome, enigmatic Victor (Jonathan Iglesias, the calm center of the play) and a critical mass of emotions is reached leading to a number of revealing conversations, back-stabbing and even a reconciliation or two.
Complicating matters is a scientifically revealing notebook that Jorge convinces Mac to “loan” him. (How Jorge manages to find this important notebook is hilarious. Talk about a closeted gay man!) Jorge uses it to help his wife, much to the chagrin of Mac, who trusted Jorge, and Peg to whom the information could be equally helpful.
Director Jenny Reed manages to make the disparate conversations cohere into a satisfying whole, letting the rhythm ebb and flow and keeping the drama focused.
Scenic designer Chika Shimizu—who also produced the character-perfect costumes—managed to replicate an old-fashioned room full of big leather furniture, miniature skeletons and many books. Her kitchen, however, left much to desire. (Budget limitations, I guess.)
Kate Marvin supplied the eerie sound design which set the mood and Elizabeth Mak’s lighting kept the audience directed on individual interactions.
Although False Stars does try for some noir effects, including the sounds of weather and a 1960’s Bette Davis film running on the tiny portable TV set in the corner of the set, this was more of a distraction and misdirection. The play’s strengths are in the revealing lines given life by a fine cast of young actors.
False Stars (through August 27, 2017)
Corkscrew Theater Festival
Paradise Factory, 64 East 4th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.corkscrewfest.org
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission