There’s a sad lack of, well, sparkle in Douglas Carter Beane’s “Music From a Sparkling Planet.” The playwright is reunited with J. Smith-Cameron, the bewitching star of his sharpest and strongest play, “As Bees in Honey Drown,” but even her fine-tuned comic gifts can’t give much of a lift to this wan little comedy about the disillusionments of adulthood.
The play depicts an odyssey embarked upon by a trio of post-boomers in search of a once-celebrated Philly star who still looms large on the TV screens of their minds. Tamara Tomorrow (Smith-Cameron), the faux-futuristic host of a local cartoon show they all watched during their formative years, symbolizes the promise of a happy future that has since evaporated from their workaday lives. “She was hope, right?” as one says, rather too obviously.
Indeed, Beane’s writing is surprisingly lackluster. The banter and the character delineation are on the sitcom level, although young audiences bred on primetime mediocrity may find the scattershot humor sufficient.
Miller (T. Scott Cunningham), a public relations professional, is the gay one; Wags (Josh Hamilton), a lawyer, is the smart, straight one; and Hoagie (Ross Gibby), a personal trainer, is the dumb, straight one.
Friends united by an obsession with showbiz trivia that is not as amusing as Beane appears to think it is, they each face a traumatic event — an ailing boyfriend, a pregnant girlfriend, a workplace humiliation — that sends them reeling from reality and onto the trail of Tamara.
Their voyage is intercut with scenes depicting the career of Ms. Tomorrow, a community theater devotee whose rise from obscurity and eventual return thereto is complicated by an affair with her married TV-station boss (Michael Gaston). Although Smith-Cameron is daffy and delightful when portraying the chipper Tamara — set designer Allen Moyer builds a nifty proscenium from TV sets that “broadcast” these segments simultaneously — there’s not much she can do with the banal alcoholic other-woman saga she’s saddled with when the camera is turned off.
Our dimming hopes for the play’s future are dashed quickly when the ex-Tamara and her admirers finally meet; the play becomes clunky and preposterous as the boys wax sentimental (“Your whimsy turned into our hope”) and hatch a feeble plan for a big comeback that brings the play to a sour-sweet ending.
Although much of the fault lies with the play’s structure, Mark Brokaw’s direction is stiff and awkward. Segments in which dialogue from past and present stories converge are gimmicky and unilluminating, and Cunningham, Gibby and Hamilton don’t manage to bring much dimension to their thinly written characters.
Beane flits between wisecrackery and solemnity throughout the play, without striking many dramatic sparks from either. “Life is very cruel to a great many people,” says Miller, comforting Tamara after she has related a tale of humiliation. “Life’s a pain in the ass to most everyone” is her less-than-scintillating retort. It doesn’t take a celestial prognosticator to come up with that kind of wisdom.