H.L. Mencken famously observed that the role of a journalist is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Sometimes a playwright can fill a similar role. Cecilia Copeland’s fantastical domestic drama Light of Night at Venus Theatre at times is genuinely uncomfortable for the audience in the best senses of the word, but overall the experience is thoughtful, hopeful, and memorable.
Stephanie (Katie Jeffries) is a young Latina woman who seemingly has found domestic bliss in America. She embraces the comfort that comes from marriage and delights in what a friend dismissively calls “the power of we.”
Yet perhaps Stephanie is not so happy. After all, when the play opens she is talking to herself. Further, she delights in afternoon encounters with boxed wine and Isabel, a neighbor and English teacher.
Isabel (Daven Ralston) presents a sharp contrast to Stephanie. Isabel is sultry and enticing. She frequently tries to turns the encounters sexual despite Stephanie’s protests that she invites Isabel for her imagination and intellect.
Isabel also embraces her Latina heritage and serves as a passionate critic of Stephanie’s acceptance of a dull domesticity. Isabel’s extreme comments and behavior help build a mystery about how accurate her criticisms are.
When we finally meet Stephanie’s husband Jim (Elliott Kashner) he initially seems like a caring if patronizing man. He loves to bring home presents to his pretty “baby doll” and wants to protect her from the evils of the outside world.
Yet as the story develops we learn that all three of the play’s characters are not exactly what they first seemed. Isabel and Jim battle for Stephanie’s soul in ways that go beyond polite conversation.
Hints of the rocky ride ahead come from various sources. The program describes how Light of Night is a Latin riff off the Greek myth in which Persephone is kidnapped and taken to the Underworld to become the bride of Hades. It’s a metaphor that becomes clearer as the play develops.
The program also gives richly-deserved credit to Paul Gallagher as “fight choreographer.” Let’s just say that in language, theme, and action this play is for mature audiences.
There are many aspects of Light of Night that merit praise. For starters director Deborah Randall and her cast show real courage in taking on such a dark and demanding work. It’s the kind of play that can only succeed if all involved are willing to work without a net.
LIGHT OF NIGHT
Closes June 1, 2014
Venus Theatre Play Shack
21 C Street
2 hours, 15 minutes with 1 intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
Katie Jeffries adroitly presents Stephanie’s precarious balance between opposing forces and choices. It is a sensitive and well-pitched performance.
Daven Ralston is given the role with the least breadth yet she finds ways to give Isabel her dimension through physicality and an obvious appreciation for Copeland’s imaginative dialogue. As described in the play, she is a spider who weaves a web of words and she takes a seductive delight in trying to sway Stephanie.
The most challenging role is played by Elliott Kashner who finds ways to make the character of Jim work even at the most difficult moments. It is a powerful performance that has taken up an uncomfortable residence in this reviewer’s memory.
The playwright Cecilia Copeland’s work manages to be both fresh and finely-honed at the same time. Her dialogue is articulate when presenting epigrams about modern relationships and forceful when punctuating intense character moments. She slips in exposition and foreshadowing like a seasoned pro yet has found a way to tackle familiar themes with imagination.
Daring theatre fans have the opportunity to participate in the rolling world premiere of a work that admirably combines lyrical and dramatic power. Venus Theatre’s production shows why Cecilia Copeland’s Light of Night has the potential to cause ripples in the theatre world far beyond the Play Shack in Laurel, Maryland.
Light of Night by Cecilia Copeland . Directed by Deborah Randall . Featuring Daven Ralston, Katie Jeffries and Elliott Kashner .
Produced by Venus Theatre . Reviewed by Steven McKnight.