Department of Theatre

Celestial Metaphors Abound in USM Season-Opening Comedic Drama “Night Sky”

September 27, 2013

Contact: Erin Bartoletti, (207) 780-5256

GORHAM, Maine – An astronomer’s mind suddenly becomes as mysterious as the cosmos in “Night Sky,” the season-opening comedic drama by Susan Yankowitz, award-winning playwright, to be performed next month at the University of Southern Maine (USM) Department of Theatre’s Russell Hall, Gorham campus.

Anna, the lead character, is a successful astronomer who has dedicated her career to researching dark matter and black holes in the universe and to articulating abstract ideas. When she develops aphasia, a disorder caused by damage to the brain’s language centers, her ability to read, write and speak is handicapped. Now Anna must explore the “black holes” in the functioning of her own mind as well as the pre-existing communication breakdowns with her teenage daughter Jennifer and her live-in boyfriend Daniel, a struggling opera singer, all while never giving up on her geophysics research.

Along the way, Freudian slips of the tongue, double entendres, and body language cues offer a view into the intricacies and mysteries of the human mind.

“At the beginning of the play, these high-achieving family members are cooped up in their New York apartment, but their nuclear bonds are weakening,” explained Assunta Kent, USM associate professor of theater, who is directing the production. “Despite the trauma of a cataclysmic accident, they are stronger and more connected by the end – having found other ways to communicate.”

Perry Fertig, technical director for the Department of Theatre, is creating set design; Joan Mather, assistant professor of theater, is designing costumes; Jamie Grant, USM alumnus, is directing lighting design; and John Horton, current Theatre major, is managing sound design. Eben Robichaud, current Media Studies major, is producing a film that will serve as projected scenery.

Yankowitz’s mentor, avant-garde director Joseph Chaikin, inspired the subject matter of “Night Sky” when he suffered from a stroke and developed aphasia. Utilizing her first-hand knowledge of the devastating condition, Yankowitz draws parallels between black holes of the universe and the dark corners of the human mind.

While “Night Sky” delves into gender roles, language and communication, the play is ultimately an exploration of what Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist and cosmologist who also suffered from aphasia, called the two enduring mysteries in life: the human brain and the cosmos.

“Night Sky” premiered New York in 1991 and was directed by Chaikin, who did eventually recover from aphasia. The show was produced Off-Broadway in 2009.

The Department of Theatre’s production of “Night Sky” has inspired a cross-departmental academic panel discussion, which will explore gender roles in science. Departments involved include: Department of Theatre, Women and Gender Studies Program and the Office for Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity.

The details of the panel discussion are:

  • “Women, Science and the Night Sky,” 2:45 p.m.-4 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 8, Southworth Planetarium, Portland campus. Panelists include Lucinda Cole, director of Women and Gender Studies, Julie Ziffer, professor of physics, Nancy Gordon, emerita professor of chemistry, and Robert Markley, professor of English, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. 

The details of the production are:

“Night Sky” Cast and Hometowns:

Mary Kate Ganza (Anna), Waterville, Maine
Joseph Sibley (Daniel), Boothbay Harbor, Maine
Clare McKelway (Jennifer), Belgrade Lakes, Maine
Cameron Wright (Bill), Ellsworth, Maine
David Bliss (Bruce, ensemble roles), Portland, Maine
Pamela Smith (Speech Therapist), Claxton, Ga.
Alyssa Rojecki (Doctor, ensemble roles), Gorham, Maine
Eileen Hanley (French Interpreter), Peaks Island, Maine
Callie Cox (Physical Therapist, ensemble role, understudy), Ellsworth, Maine
Ashley Rood (Understudy), Las Vegas, Nev.

Show Times:

7:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 10
7:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 11
2 p.m. ($5 show) and 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 12
5 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 13

Tickets: $15, general admission; $11, seniors, USM alumni and employees; $8, students Special $5 matinee: 2 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 12

For tickets, go to: and click on “Purchase Tickets,” or call the USM Theatre Box Office at (207) 780-5151, TTY 780-5646.

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