Middle-aged white male wish fulfilment writ large, The Starry Messenger is a dull, disappointing and delusional three hours at the Wyndham’s Theatre
“Ian, back up”
Don’t you hate it when your nag of a wife won’t let you tell a story about the family of the nurse you’re secretly having an affair with – women amiright! A significant degree of middle-aged white male wish fulfilment permeates The Starry Messenger to the point where the play is left fatally unbalanced unless, you know, you actually agree with the opening sentiment.
Kenneth Lonergan has written what he clearly believes is an epic role for Matthew Broderick and it certainly fits the brief in terms of it being the major part in a three hour running time. Broderick plays Mark, a 50-something lecturer at Hayden Planetarium in New York, whose dreams of becoming an astronomer seem to have turned to stardust, along with any spark of joie de vivre he might ever have had.
So it is kinda hard to see what Rosalind Eleazar’s Angela is meant to see in him as she meet-cutes her way into an unlikely affair. And its hard to see what possesses his wife Anne to stay with him, Elizabeth McGovern trying her darnedest to give some dignity to an appallingly underwritten part, a woman allowed no agency of her own outside of being forced to prattle about domestic arrangements.
Mark’s pseudo-midlife crisis thus has little to no emotional impact, he drifts by as though life is just happening to him, and we have to bear witness to a full three hours of it. What drama comes is externally imposed in a rather clunking manner which inspires nothing so much as the shrug emoji. Oh, and Jim Norton and Sinéad Matthews are wasted in an unconnected sub-plot set in Angela’s hospital, although Matthews gets the vituperative line of the night with her parting shot.
The Starry Messenger looks pretty in Chiara Stephenson’s elegant set, making much use of a revolve and Luke Halls’ video is inevitably used to evoke the cosmos. But the infinite wonders of the universe aren’t enough to save Sam Yates’ production here, as it serves its women so poorly and skirts the dividing line between ennui and boredom.