A lone blue star hangs in a window on the set of Childsplay’s “The Color of Stars.” It signals that fact that there’s a family member at war. It’s the father of a boy who’s been sent to live with his grandparents on a small farm in Maine. His mother is one of many American women working to build battle ships. The setting is World War II, and fear is rampant — making life especially difficult for Japanese- and German-Americans.
I sat behind a grandmother and granddaughter during Sunday’s matinee performance of “The Color of Stars,” a work by playwright and actor Dwayne Hartford, who grew up in a small town full of trees prized as raw material for making minesweepers. It’s there that Hartford learned lessons reflected in the play. The value of hard work. The nature of sacrifice. The importance of integrity.
I chatted with the pair, who hail from Chandler, after the show. They were attending as part of a “Grandparents Raising Grandchildren” program run by Duet, a non-profit organization founded by the Church of the Beatitudes. The granddaughter, a spunky redheaded teen named Veronica who loves writing horror fiction, told me the play was all about trust. Grandmother Roberta agreed and reflected on some of its other take-home messages. It’s better to ask than to assume, and wiser to smother a small fire than watch it burn out of control.
A fire sparked in the woods near the home Eddie shares with his grandparents mirrors the flames of fear fanned by those who assume all Germans, including a government worker sent to survey the area for trees, are Nazis. The lovely duo I chatted with shared that their own German heritage made the play feel especially poignant. I suspect “The Color of Stars,” directed by Graham Whitehead, will resonate best with those who’ve been on the receiving end of prejudice, those who’ve sent family members to war and those accustomed to small town life.
There’s much in “The Color of Stars” that mirrors my own childhood days spent visiting German grandparents in the tiny town of Tripp, South Dakota. Catching and gutting fish. Tending to corn crops. Doing farm chores like feeding the animals. Playing card games and Cribbage. Cast members share favorite memories of their own grandparents in “The Color or Stars” program, which also features several generations of Hartford family photos. (Seems Dwayne once rocked a big grin and some serious bangs.)
There’s a charming nostalgia to Hartford’s work, and a balanced take on the best and worst of what wartime does to families. It’s inspired me to dig out family photos I haven’t looked at in years. “The Color of Stars,” being performed through May 20 at Tempe Center for the Arts, is that rare piece of theater that spans the generations while strengthening the ties between them.
It’s also an eloquent window into wartime for students who tend to find the study of wars before the age of terrorism rather tedious. War has consequences. So do words. And everyday actions. “The Color of Stars” is a beautiful reminder that there’s strength in family, serenity in the night sky and something each of us must give to the community that sustains us.
Note: Childsplay is partnering with East Valley Blue Star Mothers to collect care package items for military members serving overseas. Audience members are invited to bring food or hygeine items when attending “The Color of Stars” — where they will be collected in the TCA lobby. Visit the Childsplay website for a list of requested items.
Coming up: Playwright profiles — starting with Dwayne Hartford of Childsplay
Update: Childsplay holds its 35th birthday bash Fri, April 27. Click here for details.