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Theatre Review by Howard Miller - November 30, 2021

Marc Reign and Ivette Dumeng
Photo by Al Foote III
Candlelight, a new play by John Patrick Shanley having its world premiere at Off Broadway's New Ohio Theatre, is being promoted as a "Nuyorican comic romantic tragedy covered with magic and dipped in Brooklyn blood." That's one way of looking at, I suppose, a succinct pitch for an ad campaign. But buying into that too-clever summation will likely lead you down more than a few blind alleys and WTF moments strewn with disjointed plot strands about demons, sword-wielding Canadian fairies, rabid superhero squirrels, talking mirrors, and supernaturally possessed dressing gowns.

What I would suggest instead would be to think of the play as a deep dive into the traumatized psyche of a pre-adolescent girl, struggling with the terrible loss of one parent and cowering under the threatening, possibly abusive unpredictability of the other.

That girl is Esperanza (Ivette Dumeng), whom we meet in her bedroom following her tenth birthday party where, to her delight, she got to dance with heartthrob Tito (Marc Reign). For Esperanza, all that follows is a funny, scary and, yes, romantic adventure in Wonderland, where imagination, dreams, and nightmares flow together to create a singular tapestry-of-the-mind.

You could choose to let it all wash over you like a work of expressionist art. But if you want to understand what you are seeing onstage, then those strands need to be pulled apart and the illusory separated from the underlying reality that sets Esperanza's over-stimulated brain spinning off into a dozen different directions.

Playwright John Patrick Shanley does seem to like a good puzzle, especially one that has more than one possible solution, even as he refuses to offer a definitive guide. His best known play, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony winning Doubt, is similarly without a clear resolution, which perhaps is its strongest selling point and gives the audience more than enough to fuel long post-show debates. But if you pay attention, you'll see that with Candlelight, he does leave enough crumbs of clues and foreshadowing to allow you to interpret the often strange, often disturbing events that ensue.

Candlelight, a title that itself has significance to Esperanza, is most fortunate in being performed by members of the Nylon Fusion Theatre Company, actors who understand how to use elements of whimsy and treat them with total respect and how to accept illogic as encompassing a deeper truth. Candlelight does have some plot elements that come off as tangential to the main storyline, including one about a boy-on-boy crush that, while well written and acted, takes us away from Esperanza's narrative. Nevertheless, and despite all of its oddities, this is an intriguingly written work that is being given a bravura production.

Through December 19, 2021
Nylon Fusion Theatre Company
New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street NYC
Tickets online and current performance schedule: