Words by Nathan Jacques. Image courtesy of The Z.
The curtain is up for the Zeider’s American Dream Theater’s current entry in their “Curtain Up” New Play Series, and present on the other side of said curtain is a window that provides a magnificent perspective – four, actually.
Refraction of Light is this luminous window into another world. Playwright Jean Klein has lovingly built an indelible portrayal of four individuals within a found family of sorts, each with one foot planted in the past and the other cautiously tiptoeing toward the future. Klein is the master architect of this piece, and director Sharon Cook has taken the blueprint laid before her and has crafted an offering that, though only playing for four performances over three days, will leave a lasting impression on its audience.
Taking place in Berkeley, Virginia amid the throes of World War II, Refraction of Light likens this pseudo-family, embodied by an utterly brilliant cast, to the centerpiece of the home in which the piece is set entirely– a glass window that consists not of one, uniform sheet of glass; rather, it consists of a myriad of contrasting pieces, mended together over time.
Leading the company is Ann Heywood as Rose Beauchamp, the punctilious leader of the home who, as time marches on, battles a fading mind and finds difficulty in adjusting to an expeditiously evolving world. The confessions made by Rose combined with the earnest delivery of each word made for a layered, legendary portrayal. Ms. Heywood is brilliant in this role - each moment she is on stage is a profound masterclass in performance. Bravo!
Kendrix Brown takes on the role of Joe Taylor, a role that exhibits extensive character development throughout the story and demands a capable actor as a result– thankfully, Mr. Brown meets that demand. Joe begins his arc as a young man with a head brimming with dreams, seeing the multicolored light from the grandiose window as a map to the story he believes lies ahead of him. As he endures adversity from sundry sources, that story takes unexpected turns, and Joe’s outlook grows increasingly austere. Mr. Brown’s portrayal is truly superb.
Janae Thompson brings to life an equally captivating portrayal of Nettie French, a young woman who Rose also takes in under her wing. Nettie starts as a playful young woman who teases at the old-time mannerisms of Rose, but as the clock ticks, she begins to realize that sometimes the best laid plans can (and often do) go astray. The skill with which Ms. Thompson characterizes Nettie is positively incredible, and Ms. Thompson’s talent is an invaluable asset to the community. The character and her journey are perhaps the most crucial to the narrative; you can rest assured that the role is in good hands.
The cast is complete with Peyton Neal Creasey as the joyful yet tortured Harry Rosen, a Jewish-German refugee that is the glue that tries to hold the troubled group together. Harry, coping with survivor’s guilt in a land he is unfamiliar with, tries utilizing his jovial wit to mend the “cracks in the glass,” whilst often overlooking the internal agony he himself endures. Mr. Creasey hits the peaks and the valleys of this role with exceptional finesse, providing respectful comic relief at times and heartbreaking revelations at others. His performance is not to be missed.
The chemistry between each of these four was never a subject of doubt. The scenes between Ms. Thompson and Mr. Brown were especially captivating – one scene was delivered so intensely that I had forgotten to blink. The mainstage space at the Z is well-suited for intimate plays like this, and in this production, every inch is used to maximum efficiency.
Scene changes for this simple yet effective layout were not numerous, but what did need to shift was executed seamlessly – congratulations to Rachel Elder (Stage Manager), Finneas Finnerty (Asst. Stage Manager, who also offered some great voiceover moments), Kurtis Wiley (Production Manager/Props), and Suzie Finnerty for keeping the production smooth as butter. Nothing ever felt out of place or obtuse. Meredith Magoun expertly managed costumes. As each character evolved, so did their wardrobe – my hat goes off (pun intended) to Meredith for pulling off this Herculean task. Akin Ritchie (Technical Director/Lighting/Projections) deserves a special round of applause for not only the sharp projection work around the proscenium (and then some), but also the handling of the window that is so central to the plot. While no glass actually rests in the pane, colors reflect onto the subjects upstage of it as though a true stained-glass window were present.
The arduous work of all involved, combined with a masterfully assembled script and genius direction, has paid off through this outstanding achievement that deserves far more than only four performances.
A pane of glass cannot be mended once shattered; is the same true of human relationships? Are some trespasses too great to forgive? Can the broken shards be used to create something even more grand than what came before? Refraction of Light offers much to consider about the world in which we live today and how it will affect the lives of tomorrow – but if one thing is for certain, it is the indisputable fact that this show is a once-in-a-lifetime event you will regret missing.
Visit www.thez.org for tickets or call 757-499-0317 for their box office.