The alignment of the naked eye planets — Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus — is a phenomenon as rare as a new play living up to the enormity of such a namesake. Coyote REP’s ambitious and often rewarding inaugural production of Rebecca Tourino’s world premiere play is both fresh and engaging, weaving the lives of ten apartment dwellers together and emerging with a nearly seamless tapestry of stories.
The “nearly” is important, for as appealing as Planets is, it does toe the line between intriguing and melodramatic from time to time. The play is at its best when left to explore the delicate balance of relationships, be they mother-to-daughter, sibling-to-sibling, or boyfriend-to-girlfriend.
Director Magdalena Zira does her best to embrace these relationships and keep them in the forefront, with help from the enormously talented cast (most are founding members of Coyote REP). Jeanne LaSala shines as Georgina, an artist recovering from her brother’s sudden death, and Glenn Kalison is equally pleasing as Jacob, the new tenant with an eye for the conflicted — and spoken for — Georgina. Diane Tyler brings a welcome brassiness to Susan, the single mother struggling to raise her 17-year-old daughter (a surprising Amanda Sayle) while indulging in her own vices. Commanding court from her patio is Aunt Pleasance, the homebound sister of Susan who, when played by Maria Cellario, is blunt, charming, and honest about everyone but herself.
Watching these people interact while living nearly on top of each other (Jen Varbalow’s bi-level, multi-patio set encourages the forced awareness of the eyes, ears, and chatty mouths of nosy neighbors) allows the play to travel down many paths. As we watch Georgina and her boyfriend Ralph, the apartment complex’s manager, struggle to reconnect to each other, we also observe the budding romance between teenager Madeleine and wannabe rocker Harris. While Jacob is adjusting to his new home, his upstairs neighbor is preparing to move out after being sexually assaulted by another tenant.
At times, the issue of rape threatens to take over the show. The script comes dangerously close to making it the central conflict in Act II, which matches up all wrong with the previous flow of the story.
Also coming across a little unnaturally are the menacing letters Harris receives from someone in the complex, complaining about his loud music and provoking him into acute panic attacks. This is never fully explored, and comes so late it seems almost like an afterthought.
This show doesn’t need such dramatic devices. The characters and their everyday struggles are fascinating enough, and simply watching them continually learn how to navigate the unpredictable waters of their close-quartered relationships is gratifying. Subtlety wins, because like the naked eye planets, problems are always visible if you look hard enough for them. Sometimes they just need to be collected into one place to make people actually pay attention to them.
The Naked Eye Planets