Review: HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN at 1st Stage

The production runs through March 19 at 1st Stage

By: Mar. 06, 2023
Review: HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN at 1st Stage
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How often does a play draw you in before it even begins? The set for 1st Stage's production of E.M. Lewis' "How the Light Gets In," designed by Kathryn Kawecki, is one of the most creative and innovative I have ever seen at a regional theater. The black box is transformed into the Japanese garden that serves as the epicenter of the play's action, complete with a wooden bridge, realistic floral displays, and a pond. The set is well-complemented by Helen Garcia-Alton's lighting and sound designer Gordon Nimmo-Smith's ambient noise.

Any worries that the company might have overly focused on the aesthetic components are assuaged shortly after the cast take their places on the attractive stage. We are introduced to Grace Wheeler (Tonya Beckman), a middle-aged docent at the garden, who is anxiously awaiting biopsy results. Through chance encounters, she becomes acquainted with Haruki Sakamoto (Jacob Yeh) and Kat Lane (Madeline Regina). Sakamoto is a Japanese architect commissioned to design a tea house for the garden. Still reeling from his wife's death some years prior, he is vexed by the relatively simple assignment. Kat is a young woman who fled an abusive environment and struggles with drug addiction. Grace initially discovers her living under one of the garden's trees. Rounding out the cast is Joel Ashur as Tommy Z, a tattoo artist whose services Grace and Kat both seek, and who has demons of his own.

The play takes its title from a lyric in the Leonard Cohen song "Anthem," quoted at multiple points during the show: "There's a crack, a crack in everything/that's how the light gets in." As the characters reveal their traumas, mistakes, and regrets to each other, the "light" of human connection enters their lives. Grace becomes a friend and perhaps surrogate mother to Kat, and Sakamoto and Grace, seemingly despite their best efforts, begin to develop a romantic relationship.

Director Alex Levy keeps the play moving at a vibrant pace without sacrificing attention to detail. The actors frequently break the fourth wall and narrate events-"Grace and Kat go shopping," "Hakuri drives Grace to the doctor," etc. in order to advance the play's action. Despite the somber nature of the subject, the play contains a surprising amount of humor. In one scene, the garden's bridge is transformed, via lighting and sound, into a highway overpass where Grace, fresh from her latest taxing appointment, throws her inhibitions to the wind and flashes the cars below.

The cast is excellent. Beckman shows her character's fear, and lamentation, but also a compelling resiliency. Yeh is believable as a man confronting calamity when his culture and profession demand order. Regina shows Kat's trauma, but also the person she could have been and might, with Grace's help, still be. Ashur brings humanity to Tommy Z, as well as several other ancillary characters he briefly portrays.

"How the Light Gets in" is only about 95 minutes long, but when it is over, the audience feels they have accompanied good friends on a meaningful journey of discovery. It is highly recommended.

"How the Light Gets In" runs at 1st Stage in through March 19. The venue is located at 1524 Spring Hill Rd in Vienna.




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