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Off Broadway Reviews

Solitary Light

Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Cast of Solitary Light.
Photo by Dixie Sheridan.

Solitary Light, the haunting and haunted musical production at the Axis Theatre, is a powerful evocation of the notorious 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, in which 146 garment workers¬ólocked inside by the management in its abasing effort aimed at thwarting theft, unauthorized breaks, and union activities¬ólost their lives.

The hour-long sung-through production, with music and lyrics by Randy Sharp and Paul Carbonara, is not the first musical to deal with this tragic event. It was a significant plot element in the 1986 Charles Strouse/Stephen Schwartz show Rags. But unlike its predecessor, Solitary Light eschews the path of creating sympathetic characters whose loss takes direct aim at our emotions. Instead, it is as though we are being called upon to bear witness to a parade of souls that have been imprinted on the site, compelled to tell and retell their story repeatedly over the years.

Under Randy Sharp's direction, the cast members work splendidly as a collective (much of the singing is choral) as short scenes unfold depicting immigrants arriving in New York by ship, the harsh environment at the factory, the attempts to unionize, and the occasional outing in the park. There is no need for a straight-line plot; this is a work to be experienced, like a dance piece.

Everything about the production contributes to the ethereal atmosphere: the lighting design by David Zeffren, who casts the stage in low light and shadow; Lynn Mancineli's stylized and dreamlike choreography; Steve Fontaine's sound design that incorporates traffic noises, the clacking of sewing machine treadles, and the chirping of crickets in the night; the dark fabrics of Karl Ruckdeschel's costume design; and the music (incorporating the sounds of period waltzes, ethnic and folk tunes, and union songs) that drives the entire production under Paul Carbonara's musical direction.

Solitary Light is a delicately sculpted and nuanced work, filled with images and sounds (including the very talented musicians on guitar, piano, violin, and cello) that tell its tale without an ounce of pathos or blood-pounding anthems or speechifying. And when the lights go down completely at the end, you know the ghosts will have but a brief respite before they must rise to retell their story yet again and again until someone finally puts an end to unsafe and dehumanizing working conditions that are still all too common throughout the world.

Solitary Light
Through October 4
Axis Theatre, One Sheridan Square between West Fourth and Washington, just east of 7th Avenue
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix

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