note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
It’s a treat to see a play that’s intricately structured, yet tightly woven, fusing the past and present into a neatly tied package, while punctuating the fact that coincidence and human nature don’t change. Playwright Karen Zacarias has accomplished this feat in her latest play, “Legacy of Light,” currently making its New England premiere at Lyric Stage of Boston.
Besides tackling the evolution of women’s rights and accomplishments, the play introduces audiences to Age of Enlightenment scientist Emilie du Chatelet, partner and lover of Francois Marie Arouet (a.k.a. Voltaire), a leader and author during that time of remarkable change. While Zacarias tweaks history, she nevertheless highlights a bygone era, when women worked as hard as men but didn’t receive proper recognition for their work. In this case, du Chatelet, a brilliant scientist who adhered to Sir Isaac Newton’s theories and superseded them with groundbreaking discoveries of her own, was overlooked. Voltaire reluctantly took credit for her work to get it published, but he dedicated his (hers, actually) book to her.
While Voltaire was among revoluntionary thinkers in the 18th century, he couldn’t change society altogether. Nevertheless, he battered away at the stringent rigors of the Catholic Church and monarchy, while embracing scientific fact and theories and the ideology that talented individuals’ ability could improve their lives. Du Chatelet embraced science, while Voltaire wrote plays to make his point.
Zacarias also focuses on a fictitious modern-day, married, successful astrophysicist, Olivia, whose work means everything to her, yet she wants to have a child. She is a cancer survivor who is beyond child-bearing years, and selects a surrogate to carry her baby. As her work accelerates and time passes, Olivia regrets her decision.
By contrast, du Chatlelet, 42, who is married but has a young lover and her primary lover, Voltaire, becomes pregnant, and toils obsessively to complete her work so she can leave a legacy to her 15-year-old daughter, Pauline, her son, and the new baby. Unfortunately, her fate is tragic.
Director Lois Roach skillfully separates the ages, switching from contemporary New Jersey with contemporary music, to harpsichord interludes, heralding scenes of 18th century France.
A thematic apple tree in the background ties the two eras and characters together, most who are double-cast, until these parallel circumstances collide seamlessly. Well-known Boston actor Diego Arciniegas as Voltaire is delightfully satiric and understated; Sarah Newhouse is charming as Emilie; Jonathan Popp as her young lover, Saint Lambert, and surrogate Millie’s brother, Lewis, is slightly over-zealous; Rosalie Norris as surrogate Millie and Emilie’s teen-age daughter, Pauline, who, though centuries apart, want to study fashion design at the academie in Paris; Allan Mayo Jr. as Olivia’s husband, Peter, and Emilie’s dismissal husband, Monsieur du Chatelet; and Susanne Nitter as Olivia and an 18th century wetnurse round out this fine cast. Charles Schoomaker’s costumes are resplendent; Scott Clyve’s carefully timed lighting and Arshan Gailus‘ sound design have created a finely-tuned, fast-paced, enjoyable, enlightening production.
BOX INFO: Two-act, two-hour play written by Karen Zacarias, appearing now through March 13, at the Lyric Stage of Boston, YWCA Bldg., 140 Clarendon St., Boston. Performance times are Wednesday, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 3,8 p.m.; Wednesday, March 10, at 2, 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25-$50. Call 617-585-5678 or visit www.lyricstage.com.