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Review: Celestial bodies explored in 'Cassiopeia' at Boston Court

January 30, 2013|By Charlotte Stoudt
  • Doug Tompos, PaSean Wilson and Angela Bullock "Cassiopeia" at the Boston Court Performing Arts Center.
Doug Tompos, PaSean Wilson and Angela Bullock "Cassiopeia"… (Ed Krieger )

The Lord created heaven and earth, but he also made rising and falling action. There’s plenty of cosmos and not much catharsis in “Cassiopeia,” David Wiener’s exhaustingly rhapsodic meditation on celestial and human bodies, now at the Theatre at Boston Court.

Trapped on a plane rattled by turbulence, an autistic scientist named Quiet (Doug Tompos) finds himself seated next to a garrulous African American woman, Odetta (Angela Bullock), who claims they have met. But he’s too busy discovering the secret of the universe on a cocktail napkin to acknowledge the two once shared a strange, hallucinogenic sojourn in the mansion of a brilliant astronomer, somewhere near the Mississippi.

These two drifters are linked by that river (given full voice by PaSean Wilson) and the playwright’s stream-of-consciousness style. Wiener, who wrote the impassioned Cambodian genocide drama “Extraordinary Chambers,” goes heavy on the poetry here, with inert results. We’re craving story, conflict, character, but Wiener keeps heaping lyricism on us until a simple direct address monologue feels like the Second Coming. 

Too bad, because there are gorgeous elements to “Cassiopeia,” among them Stephen Gifford’s elegant scenic design: Two lonely chairs, marooned on a wooden floor ripped asunder, are dwarfed by a giant door hanging in space that doubles as a classroom chalkboard and the first cousin of Stanley Kubrick’s monolith from “2001.” And there are incisive moments, delivered sharply by Tompos and Bullock under Emilie Beck’s direction -- at one point, Odetta recalls her mother’s advice to “learn things, because anyone can see you don’t have womanly features.”

But the actors are overwhelmed by abstractions. “It’s about bodies and what draws them close,” remarks Odetta, puzzling on the connection between intimacy and the distant stars. What draws an audience close is a little plot with their profundity.

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“Cassiopeia” Boston Court Performing Arts Center, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Additional 8 p.m. performances Feb. 4 and Feb. 6. Ends Feb. 24. $34. (626) 683-6883 or www.bostoncourt.com. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

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