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J. Smith-Cameron, left, and Matthew Broderick in “The Starry Messenger,” a new comedy by Kenneth Lonergan. (Photo: Sara Krulwich, New York Times)

News alert: A fabulous review of Kenny Lonergan’s latest play, The Starry Messenger, appeared in the New York Times this morning. Thank you Ben Brantley for giving this carefully nuanced work its proper due.

Here’s a sampling:

[The Starry Messenger] re-establishes Mr. Lonergan, who hasn’t had a new play on the boards since 2001, as a possessor of all the crucial parts of a good dramatist’s anatomy: a critical mind, an empathetic heart and a musical ear that hears whole lives in sentences. And Mr. Broderick delivers his finest, most affecting performance in years.

To read Brantley’s full review, click here.
My November 9th posting on The Starry Messenger can be read here.


I’m a big Kenneth Lonergan fan. In fact I’ve been a fan of his since he was about 12 years old, long before he wrote plays like This is Our Youth and The Waverly Gallery, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1999. Or his Oscar-nominated film You Can Count on Me, which he both wrote and directed. A second film written and directed by him, Margaret, has been tied up in a lawsuit for several years and is not yet released.

This fall he is directing his first play, The Starry Messenger, currently in previews at the Acorn Theatre. Starring Kenny’s childhood friend Matthew Broderick, the play has been the subject of some theater world sniping and gossip. The press has reported on rumors of ongoing changes to the script, the need for a prompter, and one cast member leaving in a huff. Blood in the water, so to speak, the kind that gathers the sharks from miles away. (An article in the Sunday Times Arts and Leisure section by Patrick Healy can link you to some of this.)

We saw the play on Thursday night with Mimi Kramer, another life long friend of Kenny’s, along with her husband Bill Bryk. We all loved it. It has those essential qualities that Lonergan lovers always look for, and more. The pitch perfect dialogue. The characters who are drawn from life with a precision that is uncanny. The mordant humor that could turn into a Pinteresque downward spiral—but doesn’t. The masterful steering away from those expected theatrical turns and overused clichés. The shy optimism that is still standing, albeit fragile, at the end of his storytelling.

More than any of his previous work, this play is full of midlifeness. The characters in this story (with one exception, which is an essential pole position in the dynamic of the play) are managing around their brokenness. The teacher of astronomy at the old Hayden Planatarium who, like the building that will be razed the following year, has been eviscerated by a life of almosts. The elderly man who has run out of reasons to keep fighting to stay alive. The wife who has funneled all of her life force into the orchestration of the insignificant details of day to day life. The daughter who is caught between caring for her children and her dying father, a duty she has taken on more because she lives nearby than wanting to share the final chapter of a rich and rewarding relationship. The young Latina woman who in just one night loses her ebullient optimism to the lifelong burden of tragedy.

Gone from this cast of characters is that previously signatory Lonergan young man—the one who is way too smart, who can see life’s absurdities and call them out, who is too angry and insouciant and yes, a bit entitled. But in this play Kenny has found a gulf stream for his wit and wisdom that passes effortlessly through these midlifers. What may not be as sharp edged as those adolescent jabbings is full bodied and poignant in these older voices.

I was struck by a comment made to Patrick Healy by J. Smith-Cameron, Kenny’s wife, who plays Broderick’s wife in the play: “Kenny is painstaking about his work,” she said. “It’s one of the things we have in common, we’re very interested in detail and thoroughness.”

Painstaking perfectionism isn’t always pretty in the process, but the results make the journey worthy. You feel the results of that microtuning in this play, and when it officially opens I am sure there will be subtle shifts that bring the storytelling into even more focus. But see it if you can, now or later. It runs through December 12. Ticket information here.

And as a final note, this one paragraph in Healy’s piece delighted me completely:

Mr. Lonergan said his experience on “The Starry Messenger” would not deter him from directing more plays, including his own, among them new works about the papal schism in the 14th century and a country-western singer having a moral crisis.

Warring religious factions or Tammy Wynette, I’m signed up for life.