Friday, November 14, 2008

Review: Saturn Returns

Memories and Grief Caught in Orbit

By Lauren Yarger
There is no end to grief and tears, but in Saturn Returns, Noah Haidle’s look at three stages of a man’s life, we discover that they are most bearable when shared with a ring of loved ones around us.

The concept behind the story that follows three particular days in the life of Gustin, a retried radiologist played at different ages by Robert Eli (28), James Rebhorn (58) and the excellent John McMartin (88), is that the planet Saturn returns three times during a person’s life to the position it occupied at his or her birth, representing crucial turning points (this information is thanks to program notes; you wouldn’t get this from the play itself).

We meet octogenarian Gustin when he hires visiting nurse Suzanne (Rosie Benton, who convincingly plays all of the female roles), not because he needs care, but because he’s lonely. She succumbs to his charm and reminding him of his deceased daughter, agrees to return the next day to give him something to look forward to. We travel into the past and meet his bright daughter, Zephyr, as she encourages the emotionally dependent 58-year-old Gustin to go out on a date and dreams about going off somewhere on her own, away from her father.

The third phase, another look into the past, introduces his young wife, Loretta, who is consumed with boredom and loneliness and passes the time by instructing her husband on how to kiss her (like we just met; like you’re going to war and we’re saying goodbye) and hopes to conceive a child.

Transitions between the three time periods are nicely staged by director Nicholas Martin, aided by lighting from Peter Kaczorowski and original music and sound by Mark Bennett that enable the characters to orbit in and out of each other’s time periods like visible memories. Finally, with new friend Suzanne, it seems Gustin might be able to defy the gravity which has held him prisoner to his memories and the house which holds them.

Saturn Returns is a study in what it feels like to be alone in the universe, but with a run time of just over an hour, we don’t get to know any of the characters well enough to understand why they cope in the way they do. A feeling that Loretta might be headed for suicide is eclipsed when we find out she died in child birth. So why does 88-year-old Gustin react with hostility when she’s mentioned and say he won’t speak of her? After his daughter dies, how does Gustin ever cope? Why is Loretta so lonely if she enjoys multiple daily phone calls with her mother? Why does Suzanne have no one else to turn to when she needs help? Their stories, in this fine production at Lincoln Center, are compelling enough that I want to know, but clouds obscure visibility.

Christians might also want to know:

• Language
• Lord’s name taken in vain.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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