Let there be light: Theater program shines in West Coast premiere

And we awoke there was light and lightThe paradox of intelligence is that as we mature mentally we ask more questions only to find fewer answers. Just how can a young person deal with such ambiguity? Playwright Laura Jacqmin, who came to Saint Mary’s for the West Coast premiere on our campus of And when we awoke there was light and light, populates her play with such tough questions and with complicated characters.

Set in Evanston, Illinois, And when we awoke centers on the relationship between Katie, an ambitious high school senior, and David, a Ugandan citizen on the run and running out of time.  After forming an online friendship with David—because it’s the right thing to do and also because it might give her an edge on her college applications—Katie learns that he had been a child soldier. This revelation calls everything into question and threatens their friendship.

Katie, played by Kentaley McCurdy ’16, is forced to make decisions with people pulling her in different directions. Whether it’s her mom and dad, played by Hayley Leitman ’14 and Joseph Klink ’14, or the light-hearted complexity of her English teacher, played by Oliver Reyes ’15, all the characters find themselves and their own decisions impacted by the choices that Katie makes. This chain reaction all begins with a character shrouded in mystery and distance, David, played by Paul Nnaoji ’14.

Jacqmin doesn’t make it easy for the characters or for the audience. “Its about the surprising, but inevitable,” she said. “I love to create work that lives in that place. I refuse to tie a neat bow. I don’t think our own narratives are as clean as that, and that’s what I want to convey. Art is beautiful when it’s not always black and white, but lives in that gray space in between.”

A notable element of the performance is the way the playwright and the performance’s director, the Bay Area’s award-winning Susannah Martin, use the ensemble to represent sound, from the noise of an instant message exchange between Katie and David to creating snow or a French horn remix of a noted Britney Spears song. In this way, the ensemble emerges from the background and becomes integral to the plot.

“Theater to me is so much more interesting when instead of hearing realistic sound effects, you find a physical way to represent realism,” Jacqmin said.

Perhaps the most powerful sounds in And when we awoke are actually the silences. Going far beyond dramatic beats, these silences hang in the air, making the audience squirm and sit on the edge of their seat waiting for what’s next.

“It’s really important in my work,” Jacqmin said. “There are older writers that will think more about the specific amounts of time that they want the beats to last, I don’t think about that as much. In a page of my play there will be line breaks, sometimes even inside of sentences, just to further punctuate the musicality of a line or when an actor should breathe, just to further punctuate what I mean. It’s about infusing the line with the musicality in how you say it, and how you are silent when you do not say anything.”

Performances of And when we awoke there was light and light continue on November 21, 22 and 23 at 8 p.m., with a matinee on Sunday, November 24 at 2 p.m.

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