Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Themes of Karen Karen Zacarías's "Legacy of Light"

Posted by Bruce Miller
It's cliché, but nonetheless true. You'll never please all of the people all of the time.

More and more I believe this is particularly true with theatre, that most accessible of art forms. Virtually everyone considers theatre to be something they "get." Thank God for that. Theatre has never been highbrow or esoteric; it never will be.

Sure, there are the Waiting for Godot's and Rhinoceros's of the world (Beckett's Godot will be produced this spring by Henley Street, and Terrie and I saw Ionesco's Rhinoceros last Saturday at William & Mary). But even with these purposefully nebulous masterpieces, most audience members join in on the laughs and then have further fun discussing the deeper meanings of these multi-faceted literary classics.

And there are high caliber contemporary works like Stephen Adly Guirgis's The Last Days of Judas Iscariot (currently under co-production by Henley Street and Triangle) and Tom Stoppard's Arcadia (produced earlier this season by Richmond Shakes). These great plays let the audience know early on that they intend to intellectually challenge and, perhaps, spiritually provoke. The audience "gets" this, and winds up loving the show (or not) based at least somewhat on whether they like to be invited into the fray.

Then there are plays like our current production of Legacy of Light by Karen Zacarías. Everyone seems to be appreciating this production. But some people walk away LOVING it--over the top in all caps--while others walk away with something like a shrug.

Legacy is not purposefully nebulous; it doesn't seek to challenge or provoke. So within the first few scenes, some audience members think they "get" what Legacy is all about, or they try to "get" it, and then some of them sit through the rest of the 2 hour 5 minute production somewhat indifferent as the unfolding action fails to further amplify the theme they think they "got."

Part of this may be my fault. Early on I've discussed with our various marketing staffers that Legacy can be viewed as a "girl power" play, focusing as it does on the lives of two great women scientists. I've called it a "mother/daughter" play, and indeed it is. "Girl power" and "mother/daughter" are two strong marketing themes you can hang your hat on. Those people who study these things tell us that, unless you're the Triangle Players or mounting a production of Lombardi, between 70 and 80% of all your ticket buyers will be women. And so, as we've attempted to sell Legacy to the Richmond theatergoing public, we've been hyping the "girl power" and "mother/daughter" themes.

Maybe this is why some people think that Legacy is principally about women trying to balance their personal and professional goals, or gender equality. Certainly the play addresses those themes, and was inspired by the playwright's personal experience of those issues. But I don't think that's what the play is principally about. And the trouble is, if one decides that Legacy is meant to thoroughly discuss those concerns, then the contemporary scenes, as Karen Zacarías has written them, may fall a little flat. In the contemporary scenes, "gender equality" is more or less a given.

May I humbly suggest that the principal themes of Legacy of Light are:
1 legacy - what do we get from our forebears and what do we leave to our children;
2 life, death and immortality; and
3 the interconnectedness of all things across time and space.

Among the many who LOVE Legacy of Light, these three themes are the ones most frequently discussed. The play examines these themes in terms that are scientific, spiritual and personal.

Like our previous productions of Boleros for the Disenchanted, The Clean House, Well, Melissa Arctic and James Joyce's The Dead, Legacy of Light is about lots of things. With plays like these, I think there is a danger, while watching and after, in trying to pin them down. They are best experienced, in my humble opinion, by allowing them to wash over you and lead you simultaneously on two or five different spiritual and intellectual journeys.

The fun, for me, comes at the end, in trying to piece all the various journeys together.

These productions are not esoteric, but, like great poetry, or music, or art, or dance, they also may take a while to pin down.

That is their strength.

--Bruce Miller

Who's in the pics? - 1 Ricardo Melendez and Patricia Duran, 2 Tamara Johnson and Maggie Horan, 3 Larry Cook and Tamara Johnson


Anonymous said...

If it doesn't seek to challenge, why do it?

Gender equality is hardly a given.

philcrosby said...

Yay. Bruce is back, and as wonderfully big-picture comtemplative as ever!