Corrections or additions?
This review by Jack Florek was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 14, 2000. All rights reserved.
Review: `Blinding Light’
In the normal course of events, a new play goes through
a rigorous growing process before being unveiled as a world premiere.
Through a string of readings, re-readings, staged readings, and workshop
productions, the play gets poked and prodded, stretched and stunted.
Each line, word, and comma undergoes the sort of thorough examination
that would make the Food and Drug Administration envious. And of course
at each step of the process, the playwright writes and rewrites his
or her play. The goal being that on opening night of its world premiere
the play is, as close as can be imagined, perfect.
Passage Theater Company has decided to forgo most of that, and jump
right ahead to the premiere part with William Mastrosimone’s "Blinding
Light." One reason why these steps could be skipped is that "Blinding
Light" isn’t really a play at all. Strictly speaking, there isn’t
a single story in the entire evening. No beginning, middle, and ends,
no "Drama 101" bugaboos such as character development, conflict,
What we have instead is a series of eight distinct vignettes, or as
the playwright himself calls them, "playlets." Each presents
an interesting character (or two) in a heightened emotional moment
in which part of their essential human vulnerability is revealed.
The only connection one playlet has with another is that they all
share a common theme: the human need for love, intimacy, and acceptance.
Of course, another reason "Blinding Light" could be brought
to production so quickly is that William Mastrosimone is a master
craftsman. After nearly 20 years of plays, screenplays, and mini-series
scripts under his belt, he knows how to turn a phrase. His play "Extremities,"
first produced at Rutgers, was made into a film starring Farrah Fawcett.
His recent play "Bang, Bang You’re Dead," focusing on the
hot button issue of school shootings, is an example of his thought
provoking, and media-inspired drama.
"Jelly," leading off the evening, features a young woman named
Claire (Jenny Eakes) who, in monologue form (or more accurately one
side of a dialogue), describes to her unseen boyfriend her frustrations
with "the pattern of her life." Claire seeks real intimacy
instead of the general run of "dinner-movie-sex," and threatens
to break with her irresponsive boyfriend. Feeling unhappy and neglected,
she tells him that even her best friend can see that she has her "toes
over the ledge." Yet Claire’s desperation betrays her and breaking
up is clearly not what she wants to do. Instead, she cajoles, threatens,
and rants, before turning to jelly when he invites her for a vacation
in the Bahamas.
"Romance In The Year Of The Plague" presents two upper-income
yuppie-types (Richard Topol and Maggie Lacey) looking for love via
the Internet. They each show up for their meeting packing pseudonyms
and tape recorders, before embarking on high stakes negotiations involving
the approximate height, weight, and brain power of potential children,
whether or not pets are to be involved, and who gets to sleep on the
left side of the matrimonial bed. Negotiations break down when the
man refuses to take a lie detector test.
"Ectomy" is next and is, in many ways, the most disappointing
of the eight, as well as being symptomatic of the format’s shortcomings.
Alisha (Scott Denny), formerly Al, returns home to attend her dad’s
funeral. Alisha is a transsexual and is glad the old man is dead,
but now seeks intimacy with mom, who is understandably surprised at
the sudden change in her son. This is another monologue that flip-flops
between humor and poignancy, and offers some downright interesting
medical information. (Did you know that the penis is stuffed in and
becomes a kind of sock turned inside out?)
The problem with "Ectomy" is in its basic structure. A brief
vignette just isn’t enough here. Alisha is a complicated person, with
many layers of self to muck through. No longer a man, nor in fact
a woman, living in a kind of limbo of sexual identity, Alisha certainly
deserves more than 10 minutes of slap-dash stage time. Her monologue
is hardly allowed to rise above cliche. She would be better served
on Ricki Lake’s show.
This snapshot format is the main difficulty with "Blinding
Light." Characters are introduced, their souls cracked open for
a quick peek, before being shoved aside for the next vignette. Rather
than becoming emotionally involved with these characters, the best
the audience can hope for is a sort of voyeuristic pleasure.
The same holds true for "Promise." yet it is the most disturbing,
and, at the same time, the highlight of the evening. Scott Denny,
playing Karl, delivers a terse monologue, describing his suicidal
wife’s battles against weight gain, specifically "Death by Chocolate"
ice cream. ("After two weeks on the treadmill, what’d she lose?
Fourteen days.") Promising her that he would keep her locked in
a shed for three days and away from the refrigerator, no matter what
she said or how much she screamed, Karl’s promise leads to regrettable
results. But here again, although the story idea is alive and potentially
rich in nuance, the format fails. Much goes unexplained, and the premise
of a man merely keeping his promise is weak.
The evening finale and title work, "Blinding Light," charts
a couple through an entire relationship, from meeting, to marriage,
to birth, to death. Repeatedly likening life to a hayride, and with
all the profundity of a Hallmark card, it is a candy-coated vignette
meant to pat the audience on the fanny and send them on their way.
Monologue is an intimate and powerful theatrical gesture because the
other character is you. Julie Boyd’s direction recognizes this, and
never gets in the way of the characters’ direct connection with the
The entire cast of four (Jenny Eakes, Richard Topol, Maggie Lacey,
and Scott Denny) holds up nicely under this intimate scrutiny, and
are often able to give us hints of the inner lives of these characters
rarely supported by the text.
The costume designs by Linda Ross, as well as Charles S. Reece’s lighting
and Daniel Levy’s sound, are appropriately low-key and unobtrusive.
The set (a table here, a candle there) is so Spartan that a designer
Mastrosimone originally came in with 11 story ideas for this production,
which was then honed down to these eight brief playlets. As the show
itself lasts for a little over an hour, without an intermission, it
seems that there is room to expand the plays and flesh out these complex
Despite the tag of world premiere, "Blinding Light" is still
a work in progress. Rewrites are certainly on the way. Mastrosimone
is a wonderful writer, with an ear nicely attuned to the music of
words. Whether it is to become something special, or remain a kind
of sugar pill, will depend on those rewrites.
— Jack Florek
Playhouse, Front and Montgomery streets, Trenton, 609-392-0766. $17.50
& $20. Through Sunday, June 25.
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