Review: LIGHT

by Lynn on March 11, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live in person at Tarragon Theatre, Toronto, Ont. until March 13, 2022. Available digitally from March 15-27, 2022

Written by Rosa Laborde

Directed by Jackie Maxwell

Set and costumes by Michael Gianfrancesco

Lighting by Bonnie Beecher

Sound by Deanna H. Choi

Cast: Maria del Mar

Shakura Dickson

Sara Farb

Christine Horne

Linda Kash

Hardee T. Lineham

Philip Riccio

Maurice Dean Wint

A play full of big ideas of faith, belief, enlightenment, questions and misplaced anger.

The Story. A group of people, searching for answers to their questions come to an ashram in the British Columbia Rockies. They live a quiet, contemplative life of silence (initially), meditation, gardening, cooking and yoga. Mukti and Theo run the ashram. Their daughter Beni is there but goes to a Buddhist school. Michael seems to have been the one to have started the ashram, and wanders in and out with pithy sayings to the followers. Jesse is the gardener and is very proud of his carrots. We learn he had another life before the ashram. Angie is there, pregnant and waiting to become a mother. Valentina has just arrived to seek calmness and perhaps get over her fear of driving a car. Willow is a mystery because she seems to question everything about the place and not accept the answers or the way of life. One wonders why she came there at all. We find out she is a writer and is writing an article on the ashram and has researched the people there. We soon learn her motives are not entirely for enlightenment. In her case we get the sense there are other reasons for her anger and her skepticism.

The Production. The inclusive circle is the main image of director Jackie Maxwell’s production. An image of a circle and a sphere are projected on the back wall, with structures that could be trees at the sides.  Designer Michael Gianfrancesco has created a circle on the stage where the ashram participants sit for their meditation and meetings with the leader. Gianfrancesco has created flowing comfortable beige tops, pants and slip-on shoes for the participants and orange flowing robes for Theo (Maurice Dean Wint) and Mukti (Linda Kash). So while the circle is embracing and all inclusive, there is still a demarcation in the costumes between the leaders of the ashram and the followers. Michael (Hardee T. Lineham), who started the ashram is also in flowing beige but he wears beads with other touches of his individual-free-spiritedness.

Willow (Sara Farb) and Valentina (Maria del Mar) are the newly arrived members of the ashram. They must follow 10 days of strict silence as an initiation. From the interaction of Willow and Valentina we sense they think this is silly. Gradually Valentina is won over to the teachings of the ashram. As Valentina, Maria del Mar gives a big, extraverted performance of Valentia that is delightful. While we know Willow is writing an article and questioning motives are the tools of investigation, there is more here than Willow is revealing. Sara Farb gives a quietly strong performance of a woman shimmering with pent up emotions. Is it because every one of her relationships has failed and that’s why she is here? Is it deeper?

Rosa Laborde slowly peels away the layers of Willow’s inner thinking to reveal a wounded, angry woman. One gets the sense with Willow that hers is misplaced anger that should be levelled elsewhere. We realize where that is when Willow and Mukti have an argument about forgiveness and living a good life. As Mukti, Linda Kash illuminates a woman with regrets but determined to live a life that is enlightened and open. In her explosive scene with Willow Mukti is also angry but can express clearly her reasons for doing what she did.

The audience is presented with so many issues to ponder: is there a right and wrong way to live; should we be judgmental towards these characters or accept them for the flawed people they are; do we have a kinship with them?

Jackie Maxwell has directed a smart production with sharp humour and much on which to meditate. Rosa Laborde has packed her play with lots to ponder. There is a scene in which Theo/Maurice Dean Wint breaks through the ‘fourth wall’ and addresses the audience with the lights up—a moment that I found confusing and not supported, but again, it left me with lots to think about there as well.

Comment. It’s easy to disparage the search for enlightenment, the light in one’s life, fulfillment in this representative of an ashram, but that is not the point of Light.  I think the play is deeper and more profound than that. Rosa Laborde has written a complex play with a lot of deep ideas. She has also written a program note that is very informative and telling. She’s not explaining her play, but she is giving background of why she wrote it.

She’s spiritual because she comes from that kind of family. She knows that people are flawed as her characters are, even the enlightened, non-judgmental leader, Theo. Laborde can appreciate these are dark times and many people are cut and dried-judgmental—just look at the whole notion of cancel culture.  But Laborde knows that life is not like that, that there is good and bad in all of us and I think that is reflected in the play.

The character of Willow is the one who is judgmental, unforgiving, determined in her need to be right. The play is interesting in exploring these ideas of flawed but decent people trying to do their best, in a world of people—also flawed but who are rigid in their ideas. Laborde does not sugar-coat solutions. I love that she leaves us to consider and ponder each character on their own.

I liked the play and production a lot.

Produced by Tarragon Theatre

Running in person: to March 13, 2022.

Available digitally from March 15-27, 2022

Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes, (no intermission)

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