Thursday, April 14, 2011

Legacy of Light

LEGACY OF LIGHT illuminates science and women at CPH

“Everything changes, but nothing is lost.” This is the mantra of Karen Zacarias’ LEGACY OF LIGHT, now on stage at the Cleveland Play House. It is also the last line of the last play that will be performed by CPH at its present location. In the fall, the venerable company moves into their new digs at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.

LEGACY OF LIFE, won the Steinberg/ATCA Award for best play of the year that premiered outside of New York. The selection is made by the membership of the American Theatre Critics Association.

The script was commissioned by The Arena Theatre in Arlington, VA and, according to the author, went through fifteen rewrites before it opened. The play’s success can be illustrated by the fact that it is being done by numerous theatres. In fact, according to the author, there are two other productions being done simultaneously with the one at CPH.

The script confronts the issue of how women attempt to balance a passionate yearning for learning with a maternal instinct. The viewer is introduced to two women living 260 years apart, and juxtaposes their stories, as each fulfills her passion for advancing science. Zacarias uses the overlapping writing device to equate the laws of physical science with that of human love. We watch as the women who not only hunger for human continuity but also lust for knowledge, and are driven to exhaustion “to do something that matters.”

One of the women is the real 18th century scientist, Émilie du Châtelet, a married woman who was Voltaire’s lover, the leading light of the Age of Enlightenment. Châtelet has been credited with translating, interpreting and challenging Isaac Newton's monumental works regarding gravity.

The tale also introduces us to the modern-day Olivia, a fictional scientist, who is supposedly on the verge of discovering a new planet. One of the parallels between the two, of course, is the thread of Newton and the concept of gravity. Another connection is child bearing. One dies as the result of birthing, the other comes to life because of it, but, as we find out later, there is an additional connection which is revealed late in the goings-on.

The CPH production, under the direction of Bart DeLorenzo, is slowly paced. There is some humor, some drama, and much exposition about the Age of Enlightenment. The intertwining stories are not easy to follow, but with a moderate amount of concentration, the ideas become clear. In addition, the script does not contain much physical action, so some may find the experience less than stimulating.

Cerris Morgan-Moyer as Emilie is charming, developing a clear picture of a woman driven by her motives to succeed and make a difference. Michelle Duffy is excellent as the Olivia, who finds herself torn between her desire to be a scientist of importance, while questioning her role of being a wife without a child. Amelia Pedlow is a delight as Millie, the young, free-spirited, Olivia’s surrogate.

Lenny von Dohlen, who looks eerily like the real Voltaire, starts slowly, but builds into the role. His portrayal may give the idea that Voltaire was somewhat of an airhead, which weakens the image of the Father of Enlightenment. The rest of the cast is very acceptable in their character developments.

Takeshi Kata’s set design, composed of sliding screens and trees with the requisite apples which fall on cue, Matthew Richards’ lighting design, and David Kay Mickelsen’s costumes, all add to the experience. Tiffany Goff’s original music helps in mood development.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Cleveland Play House brings down the curtain on the facility that has been its long-time home, with a pleasant and thought provoking production. They might have wanted to transfer to their new home with a return to stage of some of their stars from the past and a splashier play, but LEGACY OF LIGHT is an acceptable send-off.