BWW Review: SHE SINGS LIGHT - Capital Fringe Curated Series
I'll get this out of the way: one of my biggest theatrical pleasures is when entire worlds are created and destroyed and recreated in front of us. So, I'm an easy target for a show like She Sings Light, one of the Capital Fringe Curated Series, in which one of the first things we see is the ensemble literally rip their multi-purpose platform apart - the same one shared by fellow Curated shows Shakespeare's Worst and Hatpin Panic, designed by Willow Watson - revealing a planet divided metaphorically and literally. This happens throughout the show, indicating both change in scenery and the purpose of this beguiling, enthralling and moving fable - the world breaks, and the world rebuilds, and breaks again. Repeat.
Written by Claudia Rosales Waters, She Sings Light has a great balance between devised theatre, in which the world is built and story told by the whole ensemble, and keen moments of dialogue, in which we learn just how deeply the world has changed after some unexplained disaster. The world and its people have been divided into different categories. There are Gatherers, walking the earth, collecting its many scattered objects. Then there are Sorters, Keepers, et cetera - you get the picture. This is not a new trope - it was parodied by SNL long before She Sings Light was formally conceived - but any faint winds of familiarity are abated by the earnestness with which this cast tells us this story, a heart that never stops beating, and an unexpected, moving conclusion.
In fact, as time went on, I was far less reminded of the recent slew of post apocalyptic "fiction," and more of Jim Henson's ode to peace, Fraggle Rock. If you've never seen it, it's about a group of peaceful creatures, Fraggles, whose chief purposes in life are singing and exploring. They're surrounded by detailed ecosystems and species, all with unique traits, jobs and passions. She Sings Light, like Henson's show, doesn't have subtlety on its mind - we learn that this society has lost some crucial flavors of life - light, music, color, flavor itself. As we drop in, we see just how conditioned the lower class is to this life.
The ensemble of nine is led by a Gatherer played by Bianca Lipford, who makes a startling discovery one day after she picks up a piece of light, a commodity long thought lost. This leads her on a journey to discover what it was doing there and what it might mean for her society's happiness. She's aided by a haughty Sorter, played by Aidan Quartana. They're wonderful together, and without much backstory to go on, we're invested fully in their openness. There are plenty of other figures to meet along the way, including a pair of rambunctiously kind siblings played by Elizabeth Ung and Ivan Carlo that are startlingly different from our heroes. In fact, they more closely resemble humans as we know ourselves - but by the time we meet them, it's almost a culture shock, so clearly drawn is the rest of this world.
These four and the rest - Patrick M Donaghy, Christine Olivia Wells, Willie Garner, Alex Lopez and Niusha Nawab - are directed with a clear and collaborative eye by Josh Sticklin. Every scene makes excellent use of the transformative set, and the world shifts from one thing to another - nearly everyone plays multiple roles - in the blink of an eye. (One choice proves unsuccessful, a short walk through the audience that's repeated several times - unfortunately, it occurs slowly through a row of seats and not the amply-sized aisle down the middle of the Strawberry space.)
Sticklin's direction is aided by an incredible array of costumes designed by Kiana Vincenty, spooky and ethereal sound design by Tosin Olufolabi, and the most masterful lighting design I've ever seen in my years attending Fringe by Jason Aufdem-Brinke, who makes full use of the makeshift plot and a series of smaller handheld and string lights. All these disparate elements build to an incredible final scene. Without spoiling things, the "villain" - such as they are - has a deeply touching ending I can't recall seeing in one of these stories before. And then we're led into one final movement piece, choreographed by Sticklin, that's evocative, joyful and fully earned by this beautiful cast. She Sings Light has five more performances at Capital Fringe, and you can buy your tickets here.