Last January, a flurry of Internet articles announced that a wobble in the Earths axis meant zodiac signs had shifted. Watery Pisceans should now designate themselves fiery Aries. Earthy Taureans had become airy Geminis. Sylvan Oswalds Nightlands, produced by New Georges at Here, takes place in Philadelphia, 1963a time in which, the play argues, star signs were more stable, yet everything else was in flux.
Radio days: Rachel Leslie and Polly Lee
By Sylvan Oswald
145 Sixth Avenue
Ivy Silver (Rachel Leslie), an African-American astrologer, communicates messages from the heavens on a community-access radio show. Disconsolate Jewish housewife Netta Klein (Polly Lee) comes to her home seeking first advice, then instruction, then romance. As Netta and Ivy tune in to the music of the spheres, the rest of Philly listens for the citys racial tensions to explode into violence.
Oswald is a compelling and compassionate writer, but like the Earth, this play is wobbly, too. The script teems with poetic utterances, such as when Netta murmurs of the nightlands in the enormous bluepurple sky. These literary flights are nice enough, but theyre not organically welded into the script or wrung from character. Director Tamilla Woodward has pared the setting down to just a couple of chairs and a backdrop of platforms that move in and out as needed. The actors rely on mime to delineate props and wigs to summon character, a shorthand that isnt always effective.
Indeed, the plays scope and the directors briskness render the relationship at its center in a somewhat cursory fashion. You dont need a horoscope to know that at this historical moment an affair between two suburban women, one black and one Jewish, wont end well, but this star-crossed love deserves a more thorough charting.