note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Beverly Creasey
Karen Zacarias’ delightful LEGACY OF LIGHT (at the Lyric Stage Co. thru March 13th) is peppered with pretty contrivances. Her clever dramatic cloud chamber is infused with collisions: of scientific theories, of atoms, of centuries, of characters, even fistic phenomena.
Dual stories three centuries apart surprise at every turn (I love guessing what will happen next!), linked by the extraordinary scholarship of the very real Emilie du Chatelet, whose calculations and interpretations of natural science in the 18th century surpassed that of her male counterparts. Learning about Chatelet by itself makes this play worth a visit…and in addition, it tickles the funny bone.
Zacarias makes hilarious hay from Chatelet’s relationships with the men in her life, including that redoubtable genius of the Enlightenment, Voltaire, whose CANDIDE continues to be quoted today. You know the joke about the optimist who proclaims this the “best of all possible worlds” and the pessimist who fears that it’s true.
The parallel story features a modern scientist who, too, tries to measure the light from distant skies. She has an option not even dreamt about in the 18th century. She and her husband want a baby but she can engage a surrogate. Back in the self-named Enlightenment, pregnancy was a life or death proposition. Zacarias seamlessly weaves together the perils of motherhood and the joy of discovery in highly entertaining twists.
Sarah Newhouse is deliciously imperious as the seductive Emilie du Chatelet, worshipped by her charming young lover (Jonathan Popp) and adored by the sweetly pompous Voltaire (Diego Arciniegas)…even admired by her most “enlightened” husband ( Allan Mayo, Jr.)
Director Lois Roach gets superb performances from the entire cast, several of whom double in modern scenes, leading to some wonderfully silly shtick about familiarity. Suzanne Nitter gives a nicely nuanced performance as the present day scientist conflicted about becoming a mother. Rosalie Norris is lovely as Mme. Chatelet’s inquisitive daughter /and the selfless surrogate with the interfering brother (Popp again). Mayo returns in the present scenes as the perfect husband.
Janie E. Howland’s smart, versatile set accommodates each century with ease, as defined by Charles Schoonmaker’s sublime costumes (gorgeous orange décolleté gown for Chatelet and smart doublet and breeches (with a touch of bright purple) for Voltaire, all illuminated in exquisite detail by Scott Clyve. Arshan Gailus’ music sets the comic tone and Lyric supplies the brilliant light touch.