Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Always Plenty of Light at the Starlight All-Night Diner
Mesa Encore Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent reviews of The Seafarer and The Barricade Boys

Gage Vaughn, Jillian Walker, Erin Natseway,
and Jenn Keanini

Photo by Jennifer Giralo
Darcy Parker Bruce's dramedy Always Plenty of Light at the Starlight All-Night Diner is a quirky play that combines eccentric characters, a lesbian love story, time travel, and even a dinosaur or two. While the play has its shortcomings, Mesa Encore Theatre's production has a gifted cast and sure-footed direction.

The plot focuses on Sam and Jessa, two workers at the Starlight Diner. Jessa is pregnant, but there are apparent issues that she and her husband are having, and while Sam, the diner's janitor who lives in their truck, may talk about sleeping around with various women, it's apparent that they are in love with Jessa. When the eccentric Dr. Franklin Moxie and his kooky graduate assistant Danni burst into the diner, warning about an asteroid that will hit the earth in just 30 minutes, it sets into motion a time-traveling journey into the past that will change the lives of all four characters.

Darcy Parker Bruce's one act, 85-minute play is refreshingly original with interesting and intriguing characters. There are some nicely written moments that depict the genuine emotions of the characters, and the representation of impending doom and uncertainty are portrayed quite well. However, the absurdities in the play are often quite jarring against the heavy emotional scenes, and there are moments when the pacing drags and the momentum occasionally comes to a screeching halt, specifically when only one character is on stage.

Fortunately, the Mesa Encore Theatre cast is great, with each of the four actors creating interesting and likable characters. Jenn Keanini is wonderful as Jessa. Every action she makes and line of dialogue she speaks is entirely believable; you can genuinely feel that she is a pregnant woman with many heavy decisions weighing on her mind. Erin Natseway is just as believable as Sam. Natseway's measured line delivery and confused facial expressions perfectly depict a person who isn't certain how to speak to the woman they love, since they aren't positive if she loves them back. Keanini and Natseway create a natural, concerned, and loving couple the audience can root to see succeed.

Jillian Walker is wonderful as the zany Danni. With rambunctious body language and a fast line delivery that brings a sense of youthfulness to the character, Walker makes Danni an excitable and endearing character. A scene in which Danni makes a phone call to her parents is expertly played and directed. As Dr. Franklin Moxie, Gage Vaughn brings an appropriate eccentricity to the character as well as a nice layer of emotion that creates a few touching moments in his scenes with Danni, Jessa, and Sam.

Director Colm Jordan does a fine job ensuring the emotional moments in the play resonate sharply and realistically. Jordan also keeps the energy high and the momentum barreling along even though there are a few times when the absurdities and pacing lag. Kelly Jones' set design is excellent and realistic, with wonderful authentic touches by prop designer Lorelee Godden. The combination of evocative lighting by Clare Burnett and Brianna Fallon's realistic sound design elevates the intensity of the time traveling scenes and makes the emotional moments resonate. The costumes designed by Bridget Russell are character appropriate.

Always Plenty of Light at the Starlight All-Night Diner may not be for everyone, due to its kooky, absurd nature and pacing issues, but for those looking for an offbeat and original time-traveling, lesbian love story , there's much to enjoy in Mesa Encore Theatre's production.

Always Plenty of Light at the Starlight All-Night Diner runs through January 28, 2024, at Mesa Encore Theatre, Mesa Arts Center, 1 East Main Street, Mesa AZ. For tickets and information, please call 4800644-6500 or visit

Director: Colm Jordan
Assistant Director: Shelby Hanks
Producing Artistic Director: Taylor Moschetti
Technical Director: Cheryl Briley
Intimacy Coordinator: Sarah White
Stage Manager: Rob Littlefield
Scenic Designer: Kelly Jones
Lighting Designer: Clare Burnett
Costume and Hair/Makeup Designer: Bridget Russell
Properties Designer: Lorelee Godden
Sound Designer: Brianna Fallon
Carpenters: Michael Esparza, Phil Staley, Cheryl Briley, Lorelee Godden
Scenic Painter: Gracie Ruiz

Sam: Erin Natseway
Jessa: Jenn Keanini
Dr. Moxie: Gage Vaughn
Danni: Jillian Walker