Video by Matt Jones
The audience hushed as the lights dimmed in Wish Theater. Out of the black space, an intercom voice began to speak: a scientist (Bowdoin physics professor Stephen Naculich), explaining the dual electron and wave properties of light. As the audience listened to the explanation, actors in grey outfits emerged on stage, carrying plastic candles in their hands and moving slowly and gracefully. As the scientist spoke about the physics of light movement, the actors physically interpreted the words. The speed of light became a frenzy of human forms walking, bumping, colliding, tumbling across stage. Then, the scientist talked about blackness, and all forms froze in space and sank towards the floor.
“That is the thing about light, it is very transitory, it gets created and destroyed fairly easily,” the professor said at one point. He added, “It is not as though darkness is a separate entity. I would characterize it as the absence of light.”
This was the beginning of Light/Dark, a performance that recently took place in Bowdoin’s Wish Theater. Director Davis Robinson, guest lighting designer Chris Akerlind and student cast members collaborated to create the piece. The team drew on an existing darkly comic play by Will Eno, Middletown, to create their own interpretation using original lighting and designing schemes. While the characters, setting, and story line came from Middletown, members in a Bowddoin theater class — called Theater Topics: Action, Light, and Meaning — worked with guest artists to write the prologue, epilogue and several other scenes in Light/Dark. Along with Middletown, text was also drawn from the Bible, Lord Byron, Dante, Tennessee Williams, Emily Dickinson, Jane Bronx, Shakespeare, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Fortune Magazine.
“It has been a rare treat to work with a designer/deviser in such depth and to have light as the main force driving the creation of a piece,” Robinson wrote in the play’s program.
The performance included elements of dance, theater and music. Ornate lighting schemes and dance routines complimented the plot of Middletown, inviting the audience to participate in a deeper understanding of the physical and symbolic meanings of light and dark.
Benjamin Cumings ’15 played John Dodge, a depressed inhabitant of Middletown, while Monique Lillis ’17 played a Mary Swanson, a pregnant woman who had recently moved to the town. The basic plot revolved around the contrast between John and Mary, who embodied the characteristics of darkness and light.
The theme of “light” and “dark” was woven through time in scientific, philosophical and spiritual interpretations. Middletown played with themes of life and death, the meaning of happiness and tragedy, and the importance of human relationships in a darkly humorous way, as actors would often break into song or dance routines in the middle of weighty discussions.
Other student cast members included Emily Bungert ’15, Jacob de Heer Erpelding ’15, Chase Gladded ’15, Ian Kline ’15, Molly Knox ’15, Quincy Koster ’15, Samuel Monkman ’18, Maggie Seymour ’16, Miles Wilson ’17 and Jae Yeon Yoo ’18. Shang Ge ’16 performed and composed the live music.