Dungarvan Dramatic Club had their audience in fits of laughter at the Town Hall Theatre with Bernard Farrell’s, not so well-known, Stella By Starlight. In structure it is very formulaic and the twists in the plot are a tad too contrived for comfort but it has lots of one-liners and situational antics. I have seen several productions of this play and Dungarvan’s was the best by far.
Its storyline tells a typical tale of keeping ahead of the Jones’s, of marital disharmony, idiot behaviour masked as social networking and that dark side of Irish life that Farrell lays open, behind the easy laughter. Siobhan Buckley’s direction caught all the nuances so well but she was ably supported by a sterling cast and a fine backroom staff with an effective set, well-designed, a clever lighting plot from Geoff Palmer and Dirk Bauman, with a splendid sound and effects set from Dave Lee.
Technical management was of a high order under Lisa O’Sullivan with sky-clothes, computers, a functioning telex machine and telescopes and great gunshots.
The play opens in a house at the head or top of a valley in Co. Wicklow, where a disappointed couple, Dermot and Stella, are preparing to capture computer images of a crash on Jupiter where, at the same time, their disaffected daughter, Tara, is going to her debs with an unsuitable date, called Needles. Dermot is a failure and a muddler with notions and his world-weary wife, Stella, puts up with his control freakery and DIY botchery.
They want to show off to friends from a previous social existence, Paul and Geraldine, how far they have come up in the world, not knowing that Paul has a briefcase of his own dark secrets and his token wife Geraldine between salsa, golf, dinners, and more dinners has her own little secret too. Paul obsesses about his firms upcoming Japanese four-ball while he kicks some business ass.
Despite the laughter it is hard to have much sympathy for any of the four central characters and not to have sympathy for Stella is a weakness in the play but not the production.
Morgan O’Connell was infuriating, good at the odd-job husband Dermot and his annoying social aspirations. Trev Dalton was solid as Needles and Orla White impressed as spoilt-child, Tara.
Pat Power delivered a difficult range of emotions as Paul and he managed to get the audience to dislike him for his social lack of conscience. Expediency was his buzzword and Pat Power established that so well. Caroline O’Connor was a howl as the amoral Geraldine who knew where her bread was buttered by a quick fling was necessary to keep up the illusion of being progressive and trendy.
Deirdre Collender established much of the confusion at the heart of Stella but she is burdened by a dodgy script. Many in the audience felt for her because they recognised the stereotype but that is Farrell’s forte.