Gabriel Jason Dean on QUALITIES OF STARLIGHT:
I began writing this script in 2008 after randomly hearing a recording of comedian, Steven Wright. He made a joke about dead starlight. Even though I couldn’t remember the specifics of the joke, I couldn’t get the idea — dead starlight traveling light years to meet our small eyes — out of my mind. I was aware of the phenomena, but for some reason when quirky scientific truths were grumbled from Steven Wright, they hit me in a very different way — a deeply personal way. While this play takes a lot of artistic license, the germ of it is tenderly true.
On Mother’s Day in 2007, I discovered that my mom and dad were addicted to crystal meth. It wasn’t as shocking as it sounds. My parents have both struggled throughout their lives with various addictions — but nothing ever as serious as meth. At the time, much like Theo, I was furious and struggled to comprehend this drastic reversal of roles. But through the course of their on-going recovery, I started to understand that my parents — particularly my mother — were using meth to cope with something different, something silent. Nothing makes you more introspective than seeing your parents (your origin) revert to the most basic levels of human existence. I’ve never been an addict. But because I love my parents deeply, I wanted to understand why. This play became my quest to shed light on what I think is silent root of parents' addiction: suppressed grief.
It's kind of a big deal to write a play that outs your parents as addicts. I mean, O'Neill waited till long after his folks were dead to write LONG DAY'S JOURNEY. Admittedly, O'Neill was much smarter than me. My mom wasn't too pleased when she read the first draft of QUALITIES OF STARLIGHT. So, I told her that if she preferred, I wouldn't show it to anyone. She told me to keep writing — that my draft needed some work, but that she thought the characters were vivid and real and it was a story that other people might need to hear and maybe even enjoy. She understood that I needed to process everything through writing this play and she believed in me enough to give me permission to share it with you. Addictions and all, she's the best mom a playwright could want.
Clearly, I'm not a cosmologist. Somehow along the way, I decided to tie crystal meth and astronomy together. I discovered Paul J. Steinhardt and Neil Turok’s Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang. I completely geeked out at the huge and revolutionary thoughts in their book. Their theory resonated with a fundamental question I wanted to explore in Starlight. It was a question that haunted me as I processed my parents' addictions. How did we begin and how does it relate to where we are now?
For me — and consequently the characters in this play — returning home, though sometimes heartbreaking, is always filled with laughter. And like my parents, it’s their strong sense of humor that ultimately redeems the Turners. I worried a lot about writing Rose and Junior as caricatures. When you put comedy right on top of tragedy, you either illuminate the humanity in the middle or you write cliche. Too often I see slow talking hillbillies stereotyped as dumbass, white trash ne’er-do-wells who can’t spell their own names. As with most stereotypes, there’s truth in it. But, even though the Turners might exist in certain tropes related to the rural South, I've tried to carefully exploit those cliches and emerge with something original, specific and, yes, well-made. I hope the cosmopolitan audiences of DC will lend the Turners a sympathetic ear, come to understand them, so the comedy of Starlight can transcend easy caricature and hopefully illuminate the silent tragedies that plagues this family.
We live in the midst of forever, always being on the verge of something ending. And for some of us, that’s just too much to handle. We can only hope or pray that there’s more than dirty diapers, sour muscadines and sentimental Elvis songs. But who really knows? Wanting so much to be caught wholehearted in grace while we’re here, we’re foolish enough to think the starlight shines only for us. Maybe it does. It’s the mystery of history.