Encore Michigan

‘Stargazers’ explores modern digital love and the stars

Review July 26, 2019 David Kiley

ANN ARBOR, Mich.–Some plays sneak up on you. Such is the case with Stargazers, now playing at TheatreNova.

For the first hour of this play by Reina Hardy, it seems like the story is about a geeky PhD astro-physicist student, Rupert (Eddie Rothermel) who is pretty socially crippled–talking to his computer program named “Mandy,” which  monitors space for energy surges in space he should be paying attention to.

Then there is a woman, Elaine (Katelyn Wilson)who comes to his office after responding to a CraigsList ad. She says she is a hooker and thought He wanted a hooker to make things interesting in his office.

The story, which runs about 1:40 with no intermission, sneaks up because the metaphors really start kicking in at the one-hour mark. Of course, only the playwright knows just what she was driving at. But Stargazers seems to be a story about what can happen to us when we let our heart and search for love remain in the stars, always looking for something better or idealized on online dating sights, rather than taking hold of what is real and in our midst.

Rupert’s idealized woman is in space is Claire (Kaitlyn Valor Bourque), who appears in a bathroom mirror and we are told is in a never-ending party in a Orrerie, which is a mechanical model of the solar system used in the 18th century. Claire is a poet, and she says she is waiting for someone at this party–someone who never shows.

So, we have a socially awkward geek who spends most of his time staring at a computer or a phone screen, a woman who does not exist but in his imagination at a party waiting for someone who never shows up, and a woman who is real but who is not what she presents herself to be.

If this is not metaphor for men and women today–practically unable to ask someone out on a date unless they start out as an ad on a dating site, presenting online as something else than what you are and shopping for an idealized version of a mate who may not exist. It’s clever, and the writing is expressive.

It’s as if maybe Ms. Hardy had the revelation of her own life while looking through a telescope at the stars. Or maybe she is geeky about stars and the solar system. The writing reveals a certain amount of geekery about space with some hard won experience in online dating. It also speaks to both the science and poetry of love, loves lost, loves found and loves looked for.

People who spend time on dating sites will tell you that there is something disposable about the experience. One person I know described it as an all-you-can-eat buffet. If you don’t like what you have on your plate, you dump it in the trash and go back to the bar.

Stargazers puts some of the today’s search for love in a poetic, literary context that should make anyone in this space think about what they are doing and how they are doing it. I wonder how patrons who have been married a long time, not on dating sites and not so much in the know about astro-physics will connect with the story. But at bottom, this is a love story and we care about the characters, which is a win for this play and the playwright.

In any case, “The fault lies not in the stars…