The Lights

A mind-blowing adaptation about three young urbanites lost in the vastness of the city

Whatever happened to theater for the masses? For the last few years, local director Val Hendrickson has been grappling with that question, exploring new forms of theatrical expression in an attempt to achieve the tricky task of repopularizing the genre without dumbing it down. His accessible musical productions of Sam Shepard's Suicide in B-Flat and Sex-Club Shakespeare have been highly successful, but his latest endeavor -- a collaboration with the acclaimed Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra on Howard Korder's The Lights -- is an absolute mind-blower. For starters, The Lights is a damn good play. The Obie-winning drama tells the story of three young urbanites engulfed by the vastness of the city and sucked into a daily grind, which gets violently disrupted by a chain of disturbing and unforeseeable events. Lillian and Rose (Areta Wang and Lara Bruckmann, respectively) work dead-end jobs at a jewelry store, while Lillian's verbally abusive and self-proclaimed workaholic boyfriend, Fredric (Matthew Chavez), searches the streets for employment and a cheap fix. By nightfall, the women find themselves drunk and in a strange apartment; meanwhile, Fredric learns the real meaning of manual labor. The entire cast delivers vibrant, on-the-money performances -- specifically Bruckmann's hardened yet girlish Rose and Chavez's down-and-out, working-class Fredric. In 15 scenes (and almost as many locales) Hendrickson masterfully stages the fast-paced action on a bare-bones set with an imaginative eye for character and place. The infallible jazz score, composed by Shelby and performed onstage seamlessly by his 15-piece orchestra, is as important to the play's final product as Korder's explosive dialogue and Jim Cave's expert light design. The three elements artfully inform each other, creating an effect that is at once intense and sublime. You can feel The Lights in the marrow of your bones, that indefinable urban immenseness that feeds off the conscience like a parasitic aching; it's the true urban legend of our time.

 
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