Last night I saw Collin Doyle’s play Let the Light of Day Through.
I have a huge backlog of performances I haven’t written about yet, but I couldn’t go to sleep last night until I wrote about this play, and none of my usual correspondents were on line or answering their text messages.
Let the Light of Day Through is a Theatre Network production, starring Lora Brovold and Jesse Gervais, and directed by Bradley Moss. I didn’t read much about it ahead of time – just took a tip from a reliable friend – so I just had a vague idea that it was about a couple dealing with something sad or unmentionable in their past.
That wasn’t wrong. And if you’d rather not know any more than the fact that I cried all the way home and am now telling you to go see it, stop here and go to the theatrenetwork website to buy tickets (it’s only playing until Sunday afternoon).
But if you don’t mind spoilers, or if you have already seen it or you aren’t going to be able to anyway, I can go into more detail. The show posters show a door opening from a dark hallway into a room flooded with eerie light. The set visible before the show had a brick wall, a wooden door, and a purplish light escaping from behind it.
I was expecting to meet a couple who were angry with each other, distanced, or with some obvious psychiatric troubles. Those are the obvious tropes for survivors of family traumas of the kind that is gradually revealed here. I’ve been fortunate not to have relevant personal experience, but that’s how it usually is in books, movies, or theatre (Next to Normal, for example). But the characters Rob and Chris in this play still like each other, still find joy in life and hope for their future, and are still very funny people who enjoy each other’s compatible playfulness with the shorthand of people who have known each other a long time. These two people who have endured an awful senseless loss are the most in-tune with each other, the most respectful of any male-female couple I’ve seen in fiction in ages. Their tolerance and mild irritation with each other’s quirks are so affectionate at base compared to many fictional couples who are supposed to be happy together but display an ongoing tension that makes me wince. Maybe I’ve just been watching too much Mad About You on Netflix.
The common fictional trope is that a person or family who experiences unbearable trauma will somehow almost forget the whole thing or make it completely unmentionable. But it becomes clear that Rob and Chris have done something different in order to get on with their lives. They’ve made an agreement to pretend, and in fact when they discover that they’ve both forgotten a milestone date, they are at first horrified by the idea that they might ever forget. This consensual pretending then turns out to be a big part of how they work through their traumatic past and how the audience gets to learn the story as they come to terms with it. Rather than asking the audience to accept the usual convention of narrative flashback, in which the actors are suddenly playing different characters or playing the usual characters at a younger age, in this play the playwright uses the playful storytelling and reminiscing of the characters as they remain their contemporary selves but re-tell the story to each other. “Remember that time? Okay, I’ll be your mother in this one…” This technique made me more fond of the characters, and it also made the story flow very easy to follow. In a couple of places where it might have been ambiguous, the characters themselves made the clarification “Wait, is this now, or are we being seventeen?”
The funniest parts of the play were two sex scenes. One is in the contemporary story where they’re obviously both interested in each other and making fun of fantasy conventions but have slightly different expectations for how the scene will play out. The other is a hilarious acting-out of an awkwardly acrobatic teenage encounter.
The play runs about two hours with no intermission. This was a good choice because the trajectory of the story didn’t have a good breakpoint. The set seemed simple but was important, and the lighting made the plain wall and door fit many different settings. The actors were both very good, playing different people who were both likeable and sympathetic. And Collin Doyle’s treatment of how these people cope with the events of their lives is just different enough, both in plot and in the way the story is told, that I was completely drawn in. It didn’t feel melodramatic or emotionally manipulative at all. Near the end of the play, the only sound I could hear from around me was an awful lot of sniffling. I definitely wasn’t the only one weeping.
One of the best performances I’ve seen since starting this blog. Seriously.