Love is more than safety and self-sacrifice; it is freedom and being able to receive someone else’s sacrifice. A stronger message will be tough to find, especially when it comes to being able to love yourself. Featured as a rolling world premier at the Venus Theatre Company, new play Light of Night written by aspiring playwright Cecilia Copeland, brings this strong message of love and all manners of sacrifice to the audience in a provocative and riveting fashion. Directed by Founding Artistic Director Deborah Randall, this dark and unapologetic production grabs hold and pulls you through an emotionally unbalanced journey of self-discovery and self-forgiveness. Truly remarkable theatre pushing the envelope when it comes to comforting the uncomfortable and discomforting those that are comfortable, this engaging new work is both darkly twisted and inspiring.
Playwright Cecilia Copeland brings an invigorating new work to the stage that presents emotional vertigo to the audience. Every time the emotional turmoil settles down long enough to find a foothold on solid ground a new eruption of surprise unsettles everything that is believed to be known in the world of the play. Compelling scenes take real issues and humanize them— a signature hallmark of Venus Theatre productions— bringing humanity into the darkest of situations. Copeland entwines the Persephone myth into her play, echoing remnants of the goddess’ trapped life throughout the story. Copeland’s writing is sharp and effective; most of the first act is delivered in a vicious game of verbal cat and mouse between the two female characters in a telling format. Her ability to craft heavy meaning into extensive scenes of conversation is an inspiration to playwrights everywhere. The story is dark, make no mistake that this is a play intended for mature audiences; however the message concealed within the content is an empowering one for human beings everywhere.
Finding ways to represent the overarching themes in the design work, Director Deborah Randall, costuming the show, slips in hints of the underworld myth in the color schemes she uses. Always portraying Isabel in fiery shades of red while giving Stephanie the delicate innocence of white, Randall crafts the notions of good and evil into these characters. Making their costumes similar during moments where the lines of reality and existence become blurred is an excellent device which helps the emotional ambiguity of the show progress. Authenticity is far from spared when Special Effects Make-up Designer Katherine Drake gets involved creating realistic markings on Stephanie that will all but turn your stomach to see them.
Randall, as the show’s director, knows how to work the space for maximum effect; allowing emotional authenticity to run through in the intimate space. For a play such as this, the intensity with which these scenes are delivered makes all the difference in the world. Pushing the ensemble performance of three to deliver bold scenes right into the faces of the audience, Randall actualizes the emotional potential of the play and gets visionary work from her cast as they traverse the unfathomably deep themes of this production.
Jim (Elliott Kashner) as the only male character in the play creates an interesting dichotomy in his character as he evolves from one seemingly focused thing to another. Kashner delivers a striking stage presence, particularly when responding to both female characters in scenes near the end of the performance. His working chemistry, not to be confused with that of the loving and affectionate kind, is startling and intense, particularly when engaging with Stephanie (Katie Jefferies).
Jefferies, as Stephanie, gives a stunning performance; unbalanced and fascinating as she tries to come to grips with the situation. It is Jefferies’ performance that keeps the audience in a constant state of fluctuating pathos, never allowing emotions to fully settle before crashing into a series of new ones. With a vividly expressive face, Jefferies relates to the audience every experience that is happening to the Stephanie character. Her moments of doubt and insecurity, as well as fear and anger, all of the emotional upheaval that occurs within Stephanie is magnified through Jefferies’ portrayal and made easily accessible to the audience, allowing everyone to identify with her struggle.
It is the interactions between Stephanie and Isabel (Daven Ralston) that drive the show through to completion. Their vaguely sexual, hyper-sensualized games that explore the notions of love and sacrifice between each other and the notion of self is what captivates the audience and keeps them on the edge of their seats. Ralston is a pistol of a character, particularly during the intense interactions with Jefferies; their tentative chemistry blossoming with bursts of unresolved sexual and emotional tension, blooming into something twisted and tragically beautiful as the performance nears its exonerating conclusion.
Ralston embodies sexuality with a vehement heat; honing in on the blurred lines where carnal desires and sensual tendencies bleed together naturally. Her portrayal of the Isabel character is both dynamic and explosive. Her ability to whisper lines in a carefully crafted dialect, punctuating moments of intensity with a sharp blast of volume is terrifying and exciting. Her overall presence is equal parts enthralling and frightening, especially as it is revealed exactly how she fits into the grand scheme of things. Ralston’s performance is sensational, a true driving force in this ensemble work; brilliance incarnate when it comes to enigmatic emotional conflict.
Be sure to visit Light of Night before the moon fades away and you miss a golden opportunity to experience this dark and wondrous journey.
Running Time:2 hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission.