BWW Reviews: A Glimpse into THE BEAUTIFUL DARK

By: Jan. 26, 2015
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Shattered glass. Upon entering the playing space inside of Bartell Theatre, audiences are confronted with shadowy lights, created by the gobos, that very closely resemble shattered glass. Or, perhaps, razor blades -

Image provided by Mercury Players Theatre.

but who can tell?

That's the point of Erik Gernand's play The Beautiful Dark - every person's view is resoundingly different.

Under the direction of Suzan Kurry, Gernard's award winning play made its Madison premiere on Friday night. This particular show is one that, under innumerous societal circumstances, leaves the audience pondering how the world can become so dark.

Jacob, a troubled young man, has returned home from college after doing poorly his freshman year. His mother, Nancy, is still coping with her recent divorce as well as her recovering alcohol dependencies and his little brother Charlie is doing whatever he can to alleviate the tensions. As Jacob's time at home progresses, his parents quickly realize that the depressive tendencies they believed were finally under control had gotten the better of him. Jacob's rage towards the world and everyone around him is an insurmountable foe and must be dealt with.

In an often unlikely happenstance, the dad - Tom and Jacob are played by real life father and son duo John and Daniel Jajewski. Placing these two side by side, though they have very few scenes together, is quite a treat. John Jajewski is a force to be reckoned with on the stage when his temper is tested by an unyielding Jacob. In a complete turn from his run as King Henry in The Lion in Winter, John Jajewski holds his own as both a police officer and a father while trying to help his struggling family.

As the show begins, Daniel Jajewski as Jacob chills audiences with spotlight moments reciting unnerving prose. Every moment for him is quite real - something that audiences need to see in a play with this magnitude. As the play opens, Daniel Jajewski explains the destructive nature of a hurricane. Though audiences are left to decipher for themselves if the hurricane is a metaphor for himself or for mankind on a larger scale. For a young actor, Daniel Jajewski carries a great deal of strength both of creative breadth as well as maturity of spirit.

Although the show is theoretically about her son, it is really the mother, Nancy, who holds most of the action of the show. Portrayed by Sara Beth Hahner, Nancy must find her own voice in the sea of hate and anger that has overtaken her home. Hahner's true talents shine during a climactic scene in which her son insults her with words a mother should never have to hear. She is able to rise above what a person would take to heart in order to be the mother her boys need.

Hahner as Nancy and John Jajewski as Tom confronting their son's (Daniel Jajewski) aggressive behavior.
Photo provided by Dan Myers and Lumi Photography.

What makes this show difficult, however, is not the subject matter.

Columbinus is a show that examines the inner workings of the two troubled teens behind the tragedy at Columbine High School in 1999. It's heavy, painful, and overwrought with emotional dialogue. This is what Gernand's show could have been as well. Except, The Beautiful Dark is unique in that it does not spotlight an isolated incident. It shows a real perspective of a family with believable issues. It strikes heartstrings because it's far more relatable.

What makes this production difficult are the many, many scene changes. Every scene change brings audiences out of their realm of disbelief. With these moments happening so many times in a short production, the realm is utterly broken. It often felt like a large portion of the show's runtime was composed of moving properties and furniture. Unifying moments in the script can easily resolve this issue - and adding a bit of time to the show would not bother anyone. In fact, more interaction within the family unit could help build tensions up even more because the scene changes disintegrate energy on stage which forces the actors to start from the bottom every time they enter.

Gernand's play lead to a sold out house on opening night. It's a script wrought with a great deal of insight in a world saturated with violence as well as misplaced rage. Though it could use tightening it's fairly solid.

The Beautiful Dark takes mental illness and hammers the question "what do we do?" with a resilient "whatever it takes".


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