2017 Capital Fringe Review: ‘Morningstar’

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Morningstar is a small chamber drama playing in the basement of Shopkeeper’s on Florida Ave, (a venue whose old wooden floors add quite a bit of natural folly to the performance, some useful, though mostly not). It was written by Nathaniel Klein, who also stars. It was directed by Madison Middleton, who also plays a small, but pivotal role in the piece. Remarkably, both Middleton and Klein are rising seniors at local high schools. Both have clearly been active in their local theater communities for some time. It is a momentous step to organize a theatre company (Touch of Madness Theatre) and put on a show at Capital Fringe at any age, let alone before getting a high school diploma. One can only admire the chutzpah and belief in their material and themselves.

Morningstar is the story of a deeply disturbed man, Wren, who has seemingly sealed himself into a state of the art fallout shelter that he helped devise. It quickly becomes apparent that Wren is not well and the central conflict of the play moves from the question of survival in the face of a possible nuclear assault to more existential ones regarding personhood and the nature of reality itself. Klein plays Wren with admirable verve and commitment, though in such a tiny space, it would improve the audience’s connection to the drama if Klein acknowledged them more in his bold performance.

Middleton and Klein do their best with the tiny space available to them in that basement, adding some action in the pre-show time and making excellent use of a projection surface at the back of the playing area, a necessary adjunct to a space that can only support 6 lights and 4 speakers. Klein works very well with what I assume are pre-recorded video sequences (that’s an assumption based on the very abbreviated tech schedules offered to Fringe participants and the exponential increase in technical complexity that live cameras add to a production). The quality of the video is top notch, almost shockingly clear. Middleton’s direction becomes a touch too static as Wren focuses on the person onscreen, but Middleton and Klein have an excellent rapport in these sequences that adds welcome human breadth to what would otherwise be a very claustrophobic solo piece.

Sound Designer Jacob Hall deserves a good deal of credit for their work setting the mood in the notional bunker that Wren occupies as the clock ticks down on the launch and arrival of nuclear missiles in the DC region. The world will have much less than an hour’s notice on nuclear Armageddon, but the show is an hour long and the real time countdown adds tension to Klein’s inner drama. The projection and video design, which features Middleton in an excellent performance, is sadly uncredited.

Recent events have made a drama about the potential use of nuclear weapons particularly salient, even if Morningstar is ultimately less interested in a particular threat of nuclear war and more interested in far more fundamental questions about finding the will to live after surviving brutal personal trauma.

Running Time: 60 minutes, with no intermission.

Morningstar plays through July 16th at Shopkeepers Gallery – 1231 Florida Ave NE – in Washington, DC. For tickets call (866) 811-4111, purchase them at the venue, or purchase them online.

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