The Middlebury Campus

Observations on Friendship in “Fifth Planet”

Eliza Renner ’18 and Connor Wright ’18 play two observatory workers in “Fifth Planet.”

Eliza Renner ’18 and Connor Wright ’18 play two observatory workers in “Fifth Planet.”



Eliza Renner ’18 and Connor Wright ’18 play two observatory workers in “Fifth Planet.”


Last weekend, the Middlebury Theatre and Dance Department presented “Fifth Planet,” the Senior 700 acting presentation of Eliza Renner ’18 and Connor Wright ’18. Katie Mayopoulos ’18 directed the play as part of her Independent 500-level Theatre Project. 

The piece was written by Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright David Auburn and was published in his book “Fifth Planet and Other Plays” in 2002. Since its premiere at Beowulf Alley Theatre in Tucson in 2008, the play has been staged by many production houses across the country.

“Fifth Planet” explores the story of two observatory workers, Veronica (Renner ’18) and Mike (Wright ’18). The show is staged on a hill and the scenes move from non-communicative dialogues between the two to an unlikely friendship blossoming from their love for the stars and the discoveries that the cosmos hold for them. Despite their initial setbacks, the two finally turn to each other to find comfort in their lonely lives.

“This play reminds us that while we may be literally star-struck by the cosmos above us, perhaps what is most deserving of our attention are the people around us,” Mayopoulos said,

Indeed, the production not only showed the importance of exploring the unknown but also showed the audience the need to explore human relationships deeply, no matter how familiar we consider them to be.

The play begins with Mark, a janitor for the observatory, setting his telescope on the top of a hill. It is then followed by quick darkness, signaling the ending of the scene. These initial scenes of Mark, solitarily standing on the hill, peering over his astronomy books are then followed by quick encounters of a busy Veronica, on her way to work at the observatory. The two only begin to exchange words after the fifth scene, when Mike looks at her confused, to which she says,: “I’m on my way to work.”

Over the span of 65 minutes, this initially awkward relationship progressed into a friendship with its fair share of fights and misunderstandings. An arrogant Veronica and a misunderstood Mike clash when he loses his job due to her lack of trust in his abilities and her overestimation of the abilities of her other colleague and friends.

As the show progresses, Veronica begins to trust Mike, acknowledging his efforts to track down an unknown object as exemplary, a 180-degree flip from her first comment about his inability to understand the stars as he lacks a graduate degree.

Auburn includes many aspects of a working experience in this play that are often pushed aside. Veronica grapples with her lack of recognition as a female scientist in the male-dominated field of astrophysics while Mike faces the difficulties of marriage for an unemployed man. These narratives are relatable for many individuals across working contexts.

“Through the play, Auburn implores that individuals constantly revise their opinions as he contends that ‘you have to track something to know what it is.’” Mayopoulos said.

Aside from the relatable storyline, the set of “Fifth Planet” was indeed a marvel. With lights attached to strings that glittered as stars and differently elevated circles that symbolize a hill, Grace Zhang ’18 showcased a masterpiece for her 500-level Independent Project in lighting.

“Fifth Planet” demonstrates what unlikely friendships arise when we take the time to communicate with people outside of our comfort zones. This play reflects how admitting our mistakes and swallowing our pride helps mend broken lives as well how one friend can become a source of comfort and light through life’s perils.

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