Regional Reviews by Nancy Grossman

Legacy of Light

Diego Arciniegas, Sarah Newhouse and Jonathan Popp
The Lyric Stage Company of Boston has one foot in 18th century France and the other in present day New Jersey in the New England premiere of Legacy of Light by Karen Zacarias, and you'll need to have your time travel passport and your wits about you for the journey. Be prepared for challenging intellectual conversations with the likes of the philosopher Voltaire, physicist Émilie du Châtelet, and a senior astrophysicist from the Isaac Newton Institute. Observe the formulation of numerous familiar scientific theories and groundbreaking discoveries. Anticipate that many of your social and political beliefs will be tested. Find out that expectant mothers share universal concerns and uncertainties across centuries.

The hallmark of this new play by a female playwright is that it focuses on two highly intelligent women and their parallel quests for knowledge, love and fulfillment. As much as Émilie (Sarah Newhouse) and Olivia (Susanne Nitter) enjoy their romantic relationships and answer the call of their maternal instincts, both women want—in fact, need—to pursue their passion for greater understanding of the science and nature of the world. Each struggles to find her balance between the tug of gravity or the lure of the planets and her personal constellation of husband, or lovers and children. Zacarias raises the question that so many successful women face—how do you have it all?—and puts forth these two women to try to answer it.

The scenes alternate between France and New Jersey. In the former, Émilie has a distant husband, a teenage daughter, two lovers, and finds herself with child at the age of 42. Fearing she will die from complications of delivery, she is driven to complete her research and leave her mark within nine months. Voltaire (Diego Arciniegas) is her stalwart supporter, as well as her suitor, and they share a great respect for the work of Isaac Newton. Fast forward to modern America where Olivia has discovered the seed of a new planet, stirring in her the desire to have a baby. Unable to conceive, she and her teacher husband Peter (Allan Mayo, Jr.) hire financially beset Millie (Rosalie Norris) as a surrogate. Mayo, Norris and Jonathan Popp, who plays Émilie's French lover as well as Millie's brother Lewis, appear in dual roles in both scenarios, providing a link between the Age of Enlightenment and this millennium.

Lois Roach has the daunting task of directing two plays in one as each era requires a different sensibility, but she evokes both well. Charles Schoonmaker's exquisite costumes create the visual stimuli of French society, and the posturing and carriage of the actors completes the picture. Arciniegas is most natural and effective as the talented, sensitive Voltaire and Newhouse matches him word for word and stride for stride. Certainly the fact that these characters were actual historical figures adds to the authenticity of their portrayals. Nitter and Mayo are not as fortunate, as the playwright has not given them as much to work with, but they get an "A" for effort in their less developed roles. Norris makes a splash in her Lyric Stage Company debut as the feisty and capable Millie, as well as her counterpart Pauline, the French teen hoping to follow in her mother's independent footsteps. Popp easily finds the surly side of Lewis, but is not as convincing when the sibling has a change of heart. His turn as the French poet and lover Saint Lambert has some nice comic touches, but lacks gravitas when the situation darkens.

In its present state, Legacy of Light has promise and problems. The play is rich in content and very intelligent. We are told that Newton proved that everything is connected, a fact which is then borne out in the telling of the story. Zacarias creatively parallels the circumstances of the two protagonists and further weaves their lives together by some fantastic time travel. However, the latter overburdens the ability to suspend disbelief, as does a scene in which Olivia is addressing a group of Girl Scouts and suddenly realizes that she only has two minutes to spare before rushing off to a doctor's appointment. There has been no prior evidence to indicate that she would be that scatterbrained. Also, considering that Millie and Lewis lost their mother in the past year, their relationship does not ring true. I would expect them to have a tight bond and strongly support each other, but they seem to be from different planets. With the exception of Voltaire, the male characters are underwritten, but that isn't so surprising in that the light here is meant to shine on the women.

Performances through March 13 at Lyric Stage Company of Boston. Box Office 617-585-5678 or

Directed by Lois Roach; Set Design, Janie E. Howland; Costume Design, Charles Schoonmaker; Lighting Design, Scott Clyve; Sound Designer/Composer, Arshan Gailus; Fight Captain, Diego Arciniegas; Fight Choreographer, Angie Jepson; Production Stage Manager, Nerys Powell; Assistant Stage Manager, Cat M. Dunham

Cast: Diego Arciniegas, Allan Mayo, Jr., Sarah Newhouse, Susanne Nitter, Rosalie Norris, Jonathan Popp

Photo: The Lyric Stage Company of Boston

- Nancy Grossman

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