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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Legacy of Light

Also see Susan's review of Arcadia

Legacy of Light
Stephen Schnetzer and Lise Bruneau
So many of the words that describe Legacy of Light, the play receiving its world premiere at Arena Stage in Arlington, Virgina, would seem like simple puns on the title—enlightening, illuminating, luminous—that one should just say Karen Zacarías' comic drama is delightful, lovingly directed by Molly Smith with a pitch-perfect cast.

While Legacy of Light has similarities in form and subject to Arcadia, also currently onstage in the Washington area, Zacarías has a different goal from Tom Stoppard. Her play, like his, takes place in two eras simultaneously, but where the interplay between past and present is a major theme in Stoppard's work, Zacarías only brings the two stories together through a bit of magic realism in one of those lovely moments when everything falls into place. Both plays do consider the relationship between the life of the mind and everyday experience.

The play follows two highly accomplished female scientists as they try to balance their scientific ambitions with pregnancy. In the mid-18th century, Émelie du Châtelet (Lise Bruneau), longtime lover of Voltaire (Stephen Schnetzer), finds herself pregnant at age 42 by a younger man (David Covington). Since she had health problems with her earlier pregnancies, she becomes convinced that this baby will kill her, so she sets out to resolve both her research into Isaac Newton's vision of physics and what will happen to the baby after her death.

Meanwhile, Olivia (Carla Harting), a contemporary astrophysicist, has discovered the embryonic core of what may become a planet in a few million years. The excitement of her discovery drives her to want a child with her husband (Michael Russotto), a sweet-tempered schoolteacher, but her own past health problems lead them to hire a surrogate mother (Lindsay Kyler) with dreams of her own.

The six fine actors form a tight ensemble, but Bruneau—at times autocratic, at others vulnerable—gives the most impressive single performance. As confident as Émelie was in her beliefs and abilities, she was still a woman of extraordinary gifts at a time when most women were not respected for their intellect.

While Olivia studies the light of the heavens, light is also the playwright's underlying metaphor for joy, love and fulfillment: Voltaire compares being with Émelie to being filled with light. Michael Gilliam's lighting design has the wit to pick up on the symbolism with prismatic effects. Marjorie Bradley Kellogg's minimalist scenic design allows for easy shifting between centuries and settings. 

Arena Stage
Legacy of Light May 8th – June 14th
By Karen Zacarías
Émelie du Châtelet: Lise Bruneau
Voltaire: Stephen Schnetzer
Saint-Lambert/Lewis: David Covington
Olivia/Wet Nurse: Carla Harting
Millie/Pauline: Lindsey Kyler
Peter/Marquis du Châtelet: Michael Russotto Directed by Molly Smith
1800 S. Bell St.
Arlington, VA 22202
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or www.arenastage.org


Photo: Scott Suchman


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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