Legacy of Light at Arena

As I told my subscription partner, fifth time’s the charm.  I finally saw Legacy of Light at Arena.

The play by Karen Zacarias is a charmer.  It contrasts the story of the 18th Century Emilie du Chatalet, translator of Newton and physicist in her own right, with the story of a current-day astrophysicist as they both deal with issues combining their scientific passion with motherhood. 

The production is about as visually opulent as Arena-in-Exile can get in their Crystal City space, and the cast is uniformly engaging.  In the performance we saw, Jennifer Mendenhall was going on for the first time, replacing a cast member who had an unfortunate mishap on sunday.  It was amazing to see what she was able to do with two days of rehearsal.  Although she was genereally carrying script pages, she seemed to barely refer to them — and everything else about her performance looked like she had been inhabiting the character for ages.

My one qualm about the whole affair is the way it seems to use the central gimmick of Arcadia — contrasting scientists working in the present with interacting characters from the past in long skirts.  And Legacy of Light has the misfortune of co-occurring with a by-all-accounts-superb production of Arcadia.  But on the other hand, lots of plays contrast past and present.  And it’s not like this is at least the fourth bio-play of  Emilie de Chatalet, unlike Arena’s project Looped.

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