Arena Stage's Legacy of Light

Legacy of Light has a premise that seems so artistically promising: in two time periods (the 18th century and the present) two brilliant scientists struggle with their ability to create - create an idea and create life. Motherhood and intellectual birth are looked at side by side. In the 18th century Emilie du Chatelet (the as usual pleasing Lise Bruneau) struggles to complete her research as a coming pregnancy due to an illicit lesion with a young poet (David Covington) will most likely end her life. On the flip side, scientist Olivia (Carla Harting in the most real and heartfelt performance of the evening) longs for a baby, but due to ovarian cancer cannot have one. She and her husband (Michael Russotto) find a surrogate mother in the young and eager Millie (Lindsey Kyler). Her brother (also David Covington, who is the most successful in the cast at creating two different characters) is none to pleased with his little sister’s decision.

With its emphasis on science and research, family relations, and the linking of two time periods, Legacy of Light calls to mind two brilliant plays: Tom Stoppard's Arcadia (currently playing at the Folger) and Moises Kaufman's 33 Variations (seen at Arena last year). Unfortunately, Legacy of Light never reaches the level of those two plays.

I think playwright Karen Zacarias hasn't quite figured out what kind of play this is. The first act is straightforward, even serious at times as the characters deal with their passions, their needs and their doubts. All of sudden the second act becomes a zany comedy, with ridiculous plot devices, and a much lighter tone than the first. Another problem is Zacarias doesn't trust her audience. She often goes for the obvious joke and overly explains connections. For example, Emilie, the mistress of Voltaire (Stephe Schnetzer), often excitedly expresses that this is “the best of all possible worlds.” This would be a lovely little detail for those of us paying attention. But Zacarias ruins the delight such an intellectual connection can bring by spelling it out. Voltaire actually steps forward at one point to tell the audience that a few years after an event in the play he wrote – and then he waits for an answer – Yes, Candide! And then he explains even further how one character in Candide is always opining the same sentiment as Emilie. Yes, thank you. We know. Moments like this unnecessarily weigh down the play.

Legacy of Light juggles some big ideas, but the script isn’t quite nimble enough to keeps them all up and flying.

2 stars
Through June 14th


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