I love going to the theatre. I feel incredibly lucky that I live in London and I am ever so grateful that I can afford to go to a new show every other week, if not every week. The “Show of the Week” is picked weeks in advance and carefully planned around all the comic cons I attend (No rest for the geeks). When I chose to go see The Starry Messenger, I am not going to lie, the sole reason was Elizabeth McGovern (Cora, Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey) because, not only is she gorgeous and has the most beautiful pair of blue eyes, but she is a brilliant actress. Sadly, her talent is wasted in the play as she is relegated to a marginal role that echoes of “dream wife” with a side of constant nagging.
Matthew Broderick plays Mark, a jaded astronomy professor who’s in the middle of the lamest mid-life crisis I have ever seen. Between his ever so boring life and his lack of enthusiasm about every little thing, his marriage is slowly dissolving maybe due, in part, to the rocky relationship with his teenage son and the character’s apathy towards every decision or activity his wife, Anne, tries to involve him in. He is an extremely awkward man, who’s more at ease in his classroom at the planetary, among stars and planet, than around people and his everyday life. I absolutely understand his indifference towards all the mundane things life outs in front and around him, but his dispassion seems to be rooted too deep for his own good and he doesn’t seem interested in doing anything that would change his current situation and push him onto a different and happier path. In comes, Angela, a young mother with a son who is interested in astronomy. Angela, a trainee nurse, manages to charm the academic into giving the boy a tour of the planetary, a tour that the boy misses but that his mother doesn’t and that gives root to Mark and Angela’s friendship. Somehow, they end up in an illicit relationship, which to me felt weird from the start. Maybe Angela’s view of the world, her spirituality and her enthusiasm are what pushes Mark to, for the first time, actively, seek something, or someone, and to do more than the minimum required. Adultery doesn’t really sit well with me as a genera rule, but this relationship, right from the get go, gave me this strange feeling that these two people are, and I don’t know how to say it any other way, they were fucking out of courtesy and politeness.
The set is simple and functional but just like everything about this play, it’s plain and the only thing that’s memorable is the backdrop depicting space, stars and the moon. There are four rooms where the events take place: the classroom, where we see how our professor deals with the eclectic students who take part in his classes; Mark’s home, where we are witnesses to his stale marriage and questionable attitude towards his son’s interest in music; Angela’s apartment, where their clandestine love takes place in most of the play, and a hospital room, where one of Angela’s patients is residing. This brings me to what feels like the most useless subplot ever devised: Norman, Angela’s elderly patient, his daughter, who is struggling to deal with everything that is going on in her life while her father is recovering from surgery. There doesn’t seem to be a link between what happens in this room and what happens outside of it and therefore, I found it incredibly stressful to find connections between the different elements without stretching details.
Mark’s mid-life crisis drags on through the play but there is no slow burn. There is one scene, and one scene only, where we finally see Mark breakdown in tears, but somehow everything gets better soon after his wife convinces him to accept the research job he had always wanted and that had been offered to him after years of trying.
I had a really hard time dealing with the conclusion of the play and, in particular, something that Mark says towards the very end, “Yes, I do believe I can have it all.” which he says while his wife, who, unbeknownst to him, had just walked in on him and Angela kissing, is right next to him. As a woman and as a human being with self respect and respect for others, I simply cannot condone his behaviour. I am not one of those angry feminist who has a pitch fork and is ready to start a riot, but I believe in kindness and respect and I can’t get past the umpteenth white middle aged man who gets everything he wants without even trying and without showing an ounce of respect to the woman who married him.