‘Qualities of Starlight’ at Source Festival by Anne Tsang

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This year’s Source Festival shows are divided into three themes each one based on a full length play. The set of Rites of Passage themed plays looks at the moments in our life that define who we are and give meaning and purpose to our existence. Gabriel Jason Dean’s Qualities of Starlight, directed by Sasha Bratt, is the inspiration for the ‘Rites of Passage’ theme. It is a dark, yet comedic exploration of family bonds, love, loss, forgiveness, and whether we all really turn into our parents despite our best efforts not to.

Junior (Jim Epstein) and Rose (Vanessa Bradchulis) sitting in their trailer home. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Theo (Daniel Corey), a young, brilliant cosmologist and his wife Polly (Katie Nigsch-Fairfax) travel from Southern California to the rural Georgia town Theo grew up in. They are there to share their good news about their impending adoption with Theo’s parents, Rose (Vanessa Bradchulis) and Junior (Jim Epstein) Turner.

As you enter the stage area, the mood is immediately set with the beautifully haunting and melancholy voice of Alexi Murdoch singing songs, including “Orange Sky” and “All My Days” (chosen by Sound Designer Veronica J. Lancaster). Set Designer Robbie Hayes and Prop Designer Patti Kalil use a mismatched sofa and chairs, the mish mash of random, useless yard sale finds strewn all over, and the dining table covered in more junk adds to that feel of cramped, suffocating space in the Turner’s trailer home.

Theo is nervous because this is the first time Polly is seeing the squalor in which he grew up and Polly is nervous because of the news they are sharing with Rose and Junior and what that means about her. Theo and Polly, although very much in love with each other seem unable to connect after experiencing two tragic miscarriages. They desperately want the adoption to go through but are too scarred by their experiences to really be able to believe that the adoption will really come through. Neither Theo nor Polly has really dealt with their loss and has plunged head-first into the ‘alternate solution’ of adoption and you can almost physically feel the chasm that is ever-expanding between them.

Their hopes of a smooth adoption come to a screeching halt when they ask Rose and Junior to participate in the grandparent interviews required by the birth mother and they discover that Rose and Junior are meth addicts. The ensuing argument between Theo, Junior, Rose, and Polly open up old wounds between Theo and his parents. Junior and Rose feel abandoned and unappreciated by Theo. Theo recalls the horrible childhood he lived at the hands of Junior and because of Rose’s indifference. Will overdosing on a dime bag full of crystal meth be the key to dissolving the animosity between father and son? Will it be the key to helping Polly and Theo deal with their loss and bring them closer together?

While the themes in Qualities of Starlight are serious and dark, there are several laugh-out-loud moments. If you’re looking for a night filled with family dysfunction, theoretical astronomy, and a look at the strength of bonds of love and family, go check it out!

Junior (Jim Epstein) butchering the baby dear, Rose (Vanessa Bradchulis) desperately trying to find Polly, and Theo (Daniel Corey) reacting to the overdose. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Running Time: 2 hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

The remaining Qualities of Starlight shows are scheduled for June 16, 20, 24 and 30, 2012. Source Festival runs through July 1, 2012 at Source – 1835 14th  St NW, in Washington DC. For tickets, order them online.