L.A.’s Firelight Collective brings its unique brand of immersive theater to New York City with “Stars in the Night,” leading up to a dozen theatergoers at a time through the cobblestones of Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood for an absorbing tale of love and loss.
You first gather on a fifth floor balcony of the coffee warehouse-turned-mall Empire Stores with sweeping views of Manhattan. There, Matt Brown’s Man in the Orange Tie takes attendance before leading the group along a winding path beneath the Manhattan Bridge with an equally winding soliloquy about how life is make up “of moments, like a cluster of stars” — and how he lost his lilac-smelling love to a car accident 25 years ago to this day.
Over the course of the next hour and 40 minutes, we meet other members of the company — and are left to puzzle out their possible connection to each other and to a vague timeline that’s further muddled by decidedly retro costumes.
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Some cast members address us directly — asking if we’ve seen their lost sister, or inviting us in for a cocktail party (featuring very good whiskey from nearby Red Hook’s Van Brunt Stillhouse). Davonna Dehay’s real estate agent, who shuttles us from a storefront space where two vignettes play out back-to-back to the gorgeous loft apartment where the show’s climax occurs, is the most overtly performative of the company, sometime jarringly so.
But others seem to pretend as if we are not even there. We meet Jamie (Jennifer Sacks) as she talks to her mom on the cellphone, counting out the members of the group and declaring, “There are … 6, 7, 8 lamps — they follow me everywhere, like stars in the night.” And we do follow her where she leads us, sometimes straining to hear her with the deafening clatter of the subway on the bridge overhead.
The remarkable Deanne Noe is the lone cast member to perform in both modes — first coaxing us to speak and interact in cocktail-party chatter that is just a little too revealing of her relationship to a guy named Clay — and later returning in the nude for an Altman-esque coda that makes literal the notion of a bare-all confessional.
Noe’s two scenes bookend a scene of domestic conflict between a married couple (David Haley and Allison Byrnes) that is stunning in both its intimacy and its understatement. The show seems to blur the lines between traditional theater acting that projects out to the audience and the more subtle demands of cinematic performance where the camera — or, in this case, an audience member standing just feet away — can pick up even the subtlest flickers of emotion as they glance across the face.
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Indeed, those final scenes are a real tour-de-force — though they don’t so much fulfill the promise of the vignettes that came before as they overshadow them. The earlier scenes are diverting enough, to be sure, as you puzzle out how these characters might connect to each other — but on their own, none come close to delivering the impact of those final scenes. They’re just an eavesdrop in the bucket by comparison.
As conceived by Stephanie Feury and Nathan Keyes, “Stars in the Night” unfolds like a linked collection of short stories that only gathers strength as it goes along. While the L.A. production faced logistical challenges — including a car ride to a house in the Hollywood Hills for the climax — the Dumbo edition unfolds with admirable precision on a handful of Brooklyn blocks.
Just remember to wear sensible shoes.