Night Sky, Boxer Rebellion Theater. Susan Yankowitz's melodramatic portrayal of one woman's struggle with aphasia begins in a physics lecture hall, where it takes the playwright all of two minutes to create a perfectly unconvincing world. Rising young professor Anna attempts to ignite her students' imaginations by asking, "Why do the planets spin?" as though posing the riddle of the Sphinx. "And if they didn't spin, where would they go?" Any freshman physics student would roll his eyes at the simplicity of the first question and the meaninglessness of the second.
Relationships in this 90-minute piece are schematic, dialogue is forced, and metaphors are tortured to within an inch of their lives; it might be interesting to compare the mysterious dark matter in the universe and the impenetrable murk of an aphasic's brain once, but not half a dozen times. Still, director Michael S. Pieper and his laudable cast manage to craft a surprisingly compelling evening from Yankowitz's overwrought material. The lion's share of the credit goes to the astonishing Kerry Cox, who offers a blistering, heart-wrenching portrayal of a woman suddenly stranded without language. Capturing Anna's confusion, frustration, exhaustion, and rage in exacting detail, Cox dives as deeply into her character's misery as into her fury. Hers is one of the most thrilling performances of the year--and perhaps the most accomplished given the material she's had to rise above.