Beginning with the erecting of a green screen and ending with its dismantling, Different Stars: A Reckoning with Time, Trauma, and Circumstance is one man’s self-aware journey into his most internal mind. Creator Karl Saint Lucy and director Raquel Cion do not shy away from the absurdity of art in the COVID era, instead embracing the oddities of Zoom and socially distanced acting. Its result? James (portrayed by James Jackson, Jr. and representing Saint Lucy as a character) is a man aware that he is confronting the demons of his past relationship, aware that his remembrances and the people within them are manifestations of his mind, and allowing the audience on that internal journey with him. We are taken to the deepest recesses of James’s brain, represented by home-movie backdrops and intentionally ridiculous Grecian costumes, to confront his trauma with him.
This new iteration of Saint Lucy’s 2011 song cycle, described as a “memory play for a gay man reminiscing on his past during quarantine,” follows James as he finally comes to terms with the ending of his relationship with Renaud (Karl Saint James). He is mentally aided by Renaud’s friends, lesbian couple Olympia (Victoria Husten-Elem) and Lauren (Danielle Buonaiuto). Using both Saint Lucy’s own lyrics and the sonnets of William Shakespeare, James works through his repressed feelings on the break-up, ultimately finding a way to heal and write music again.
The lyrics are wonderfully written. Karl Saint Lucy weaves humor, internalized trauma, and romance languages into a touching symphony. They lend themselves well to the stage, a place this reviewer would love to see this performed. Unfortunately, my attention kept getting drawn away from the emotional lyricism to the odd editing of this livestream: whenever a singular actor took focus, they were upstaged by kaleidoscopic backgrounds, a melodramatic Greek chorus, or fussy green screen drops. It would have been preferable to simply have the actors there, even in boxed Zoom form, living and breathing the words as they were. Perhaps this editing was meant to represent the self-awareness of this project, or the calamity of James’s mind, or simply how weird quarantine can be: ultimately, though, I found my mind struggling to pay attention to what the actors were communicating.
And the actors, indeed, were superb. Each of the four adapted to digital performance with style and musicality. Of particular note are Husten-Elem and Buonaiuto: I was delighted whenever they were onscreen, melding their beautiful voices (Husten-Elem’s lower resonance and Buonaiuto’s soaring soprano) with their emotional authenticity. Their commitment, their relationships, and their thoughts could be felt even through a computer screen. For this reviewer, they stole the show.
Different Stars…, as it has evolved, is a cycle with incredible promise. Saint Lucy is a talented songwriter, allowing personal vulnerability into their own innate musicality and unique style. This story is important, illustrating the still-often-ignored queer experience through a queer person’s perspective. I simply wish it leant itself better to digitized form. I cannot wait to see it back onstage, where it will have a much easier time reaching out and touching hearts.
Different Stars can be found at differentstars.live. Co-produced by Karl Saint Lucy and ChamberQUEER and serving as a benefit for QORDS, Different Stars stars James Jackson, Jr. (Pulitzer Prize-winning A Strange Loop at Playwrights Horizons), Danielle Buonaiuto, Victoria Huston-Elem, and Karl Saint Lucy, featuring direction by Raquel Cion, costumes by David Quinn, audio engineering and guitar by Zac Selissen, and bass guitar by Genevieve Chapin.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.