Stars and Barmen

Reina Hardy's celestial romance keeps the audience in stitches while grappling with some heady philosophical ideas

Caught between the light and the dark: Bridget Farr (l) as Claire and Breanna Stogner as Elaine
Caught between the light and the dark: Bridget Farr (l) as Claire and Breanna Stogner as Elaine
Courtesy of Kimberley Mead

Stars and Barmen

The Vortex, 2307 Manor Rd., 512/478-5282
www.vortexrep.org
Through Nov. 16
Running time: 1 hr., 25 min.

Technology has thinned the veil between humans and gods. Celebrity publicists have found their modern roles somewhat diminished in an age when actors tweet directly to their fans about politics and rock singers recommend Italian horror films in online forums. The formerly untouchable idol implements a voice that suggests an ease and intimacy not unlike that which exists between genuine friends. As such, ordinary people begin to believe that the impossible is possible. Into this social milieu sashay three characters: Rupert, Elaine, and Claire. Much like Rupert, we truly believe we're an arm's length away from being touched by an angel.

Although Rupert's immediate concern is to find a date to his sister's wedding, he is 27 years old and, like most single people his age, is preoccupied with the task of finding a date to everything for the rest of his life, even if he is only barely conscious of this formidable goal. Meanwhile, he wrestles with the literary version of a madonna/whore complex by chatting up two female writers, one an ethereal runway-ready poet (Claire), the other a symbol of the dark side: at turns assuming the personae of a sex blogger/memoirist and an actual prostitute (Elaine). The shadowy character of Elaine, of course, is brilliantly flawed: her imperfect figure a mirror of her ample neuroses. Where Claire seems carved out of marble, Elaine is dynamic and human. Simply put, Rupert is caught between the romantic allure of an idealized goddess and the accessibility and authenticity of a real woman.

As the sole masculine figure in a romantic triumvirate, Rupert finds himself at the apex of a cosmic No Exit, bouncing up against the walls of his circular thinking. The celestial element in Stars and Barmen – what Elaine nonetheless calls "some hippie bullshit" – is more than clever stagecraft. Although the set is certainly something to marvel at, embellished as it is with the lamps and mobiles you might find at a West Elm planetarium, the battle between hard and soft science here vacillates between playful sparring and full-on war.

With Stars and Barmen, celebrated UT playwright and MFA candidate Reina Hardy renews locals' hope in the potential vibrancy of the Austin theatre scene by giving us something we don't always get here: a rock solid script. As is true of guitar players in this town, actors are a dime a dozen. It takes a special person to enter show business and be willing to sit in the back and throw down an anchor. This is why talented drummers are always in high demand, and why writers should be, too. Hardy is the high priestess of the quotable one-liner, and she manages to keep her audience in stitches while grappling with some heady philosophical ideas. We can only hope this Chicago native sticks around a while after graduation.

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