The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday May 17th

"Bright Star" delves into anger, romance and liquor in the postwar South

"Bright Star" takes place in early 20th century North Carolina. The show features a live orchestra. 

Photo courtesy of  Bryant Chappell
Buy Photos "Bright Star" takes place in early 20th century North Carolina. The show features a live orchestra. Photo courtesy of Bryant Chappell

Ten or so pickers and fiddlers sit in a shallow semicircle, two rows deep against the back wall of the intimate CURRENT Artspace + Studio. But for two hours, it seems as if they’re hardly there. 

Directed by first-year Rajeev Dutta, the ensemble is the ever-present, never-glaring thread that runs throughout the play. The soft murmur of thumbs twiddling guitar strings and the eerie whine of bowstrings brushing fiddles augment the fluid but frequent set transitions. 

Bright Star will run from March 21 to 24. More details can be found at Company Carolina’s website. Playmakers Repertory Company will also show their rendition of Bright Star in July.

The set is nearly square with the stage deeper than it is wide. Audience members line the walls so the play is seen from three sides. The acoustics are exemplary. Voices and music alike fill the space.

The play, set in North Carolina the 1920s and ‘40s, features both a young and an older Alice Murphy. Flashes from one to the other are blended seamlessly, built on the pretext of an opening song where all cast members fill the space. Murphy (Haley Stone) is accompanied by Jimmy Ray (Clay Cooper), Billy Cane (Michael Perez) and an impressive host of others. The play revitalizes the tale of the post-war writer.

Standout voices are featured throughout as numbers range from uplifting to mournful. Music is well paired with shifts of scene, acting and dance. The score is all written by Eddie Brickell and Steve Martin, both prominent storytellers and musicians of the South. And that’s what the play is really all about: the stories of the South. Beside Alice Murphy is Billy Cane and the revitalized tale of the post-war Southern writer. Fitzgerald, Wolfe and Hemingway are all humorously referenced.

As young love and social esteem collide on stage, the consequences flirt with tragedy for the better portion of the play. Between the genesis of a war-weathered boy aspiring to be a writer and the visceral coming-of-age story of young Alice Murphy, “Bright Star” tells the honest tale of postwar life in the South. But "Bright Star" deviates from the Southern gothic – this story has a happy ending.

The larger plot is at times hard to grasp as this play simply covers a lot of ground. The production is better thought through scene-by-scene, each one taken as a stirring emotional rendering of a given moment. Drunk on anger, romance or liquor, characters boil over often. While humor and drama wrench at the heart, love fuels this show.

“Bright Star” is the clever assemblage of a heavy-hitting vocal cast, adept use of props and a top-notch Southern score.

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