By Patrick Christiano
February 28, 2013: Scripts Up! producers Janet McCall and David Spaulding are presenting YEARS OF SKY, a new play by Barbara Blatner, which opened at 59E59 Theaters last night. Director Christopher Scott has assembled a fine cast for the New York City premiere of this engaging drama that focuses on an interracial love affair in Dallas, Texas in 1963 the year John F. Kennedy was assassinated there.
History intervenes when then-teenagers David (Sheldon Best) and Stace (Auden Thorton) plan to spend their first night together after watching President Kennedy’s motorcade roll through Dallas, Texas. Clearly infatuated with one another, the handsome African American young man and the beautiful blonde, both 17 years old, have been making out in the bushes where they have been meeting secretly. When the play begins they are alone together in public for the first time, and David is clearly uncomfortable and fearful of being watched by a nearby police officer.
The first act ends after Stace, the aggressor, elicits a promise from David to meet her later that night at her family home in a suburban area of Dallas about 5 miles from David’s neighborhood. With her family away Stace will finally be able to fulfill her dream of bringing David to her bedroom, and he has promised to stay the night, but warns her he must leave very early in the morning so that he will not be discovered. The act ends with the lovebirds watching John and Jackie Kennedy in their open convertible moments before the president was shot.
The second act begins five years later with David listening to the radio reports of Robert Kennedy’s assassination in California. David is working on the books in the electrical shop owned by his father, Ben (Todd Davis), and the two are bickering about what’s wrong with David, who is now an avid supporter of Malcolm X and radical politics. As a father, who knows his son well, Ben suspects his son’s problem is much deeper, his fixation with a white woman, something extremely dangerous in Texas at the time. He knows his son is a magnet for the young women and a girl sounding white has called several times over the past few years, but his son would not come to the telephone. Ben’s beliefs are confirmed when Stace, now a college graduate, makes a surprise visit to the shop. She has been working fulltime for the senator’s presidential campaign and is extremely distraught over yet another Kennedy death.
When Ben gives the two five minutes together, we discover they never met that evening after John F. Kennedy was killed. All this time Stace has longed for David, and now she has come to confront him about his sudden disappearance that day five years ago just after the shots rang out that assassinated the then President. She felt abandoned and has come in hopes of putting the pieces together. The two are apparently still strongly attracted to each other, but their reunion turns into an ugly political debate with Stace fleeing the shop in tears as David attempts to bring her upstairs to his bedroom where he lives over his father’s shop.
The third act takes place almost thirty years later in an upscale hotel bedroom overlooking the grassy knoll where they two teenagers watched as John F. Kennedy’s head was blown apart by an assassin’s bullets. The mature 46 year old adults are played by Amy Hargreaves and Gano Grills, as Stace and David respectively. They have had lunch in the hotel, where David had two martinis before returning to her room. This once idealistic young couple has lived full lives while secretly wondering about each other. He is married with two children and she is recently divorced. Her job has brought her to Dallas, and her psychiatrist has suggested she reach out to David.
This final act feels contrived as their meeting descends into too much talk and too little action. Blatner, an excellent writer, is attempting to walk a provocative fine line that makes some interesting points about politics, psychology, race, and that instinctual feeling we call love, but all the talk doesn’t pay off.
The first act makes an excellent beginning and the second has some nice confrontations that work well, but the final act becomes a tedious explanatory debate in semantics as we watch the couple circling each other around the bed that dominates the room. We wonder will they get on the bed and rekindle the spark they once had, but instead we get more talk and a final slow fadeout with the couple looking down at the grassy knoll where they once watched John F. Kennedy’s motorcade almost 30 years ago.
Christopher Scott’s direction leads the actor’s into playing the surface problems instead of the underlying tensions. The lust that needs to drive the couple’s conflicts is absent and little accumulates emotionally. Best, an Audelco nominee, and Thornton, a Juillard graduate, make an attractive leading couple and are playful together, but they generate little heat, even their kiss in the second act is way too easy. These two actors are certainly gifted, but their earnest performances here are general and don’t go far enough.
The design team features Rebecca Phillips (set design), Joyce Liao (lighting design), and Sarah Rachel Jones (sound design).
YEARS OF SKY runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, March 10. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday and Saturday at 8:30 PM; and Sunday at 3:30 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $18 ($12.60 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Photos: Carol Rosegg