Friday, May 22, 2015

Light Sensitive by Jim Geoghan

Preston Acuff 

By Joe Straw

I watched this marvelous play envisioning it as set in Chicago knowing full well that Hells Kitchen is in Manhattan.  What confused me, well, the first thing, it was dark with hardly any light. Secondly I was slightly caught off guard by the accents emanating from the actors.   One of the actors was from the Midwest, the other from Arkansas, the other from Moscow, Russia, a potpourri of characters I could only imagine living in Chicago. Or maybe it was the light of mental images from the last play at the Moth which was set in Chicago.  But, and there’s a big but here, never mind, I’ll get to that later. – Narrator

Justin Huen, Scenic Design & Lighting Design, presents a dramatic set in a shanty Hells Kitchen apartment in Manhattan. A filtered light seeps through the upstage wall.  (An abiding theme in every one of Huen’s creations) The windows have not been cleaned since the occupants moved in and there is possibly nothing to see outside except other shanty apartments buildings and the occasional dead body littering the streets.  A bathtub sits near the sink, hardly ever used, especially since it’s filled with un-cashed checks, newspapers, and other junk mail.  This place is one notch above a pigsty and one can only imagine the stench.  

Light Sensitive by Jim Geoghan and directed by John Markland, produced by John Markland and Brenda Davidson is now playing through May 31, 2015 at The Moth Theatre in Hollywood.

In short, Light Sensitive is breathtaking production.  John Markland’s meticulous staging of meritorious actors brings a remarkable light to Los Angeles theatre. Just when you thought the craft of acting is lacking in local productions comes an astonishing production of life and depth of character.  This marvelous production at The Moth should not be missed!  Seats are limited and time is running short, so run!

In the opening moments, and in its perfect quietude, “Light Sensitive” starts with an unfathomable shadow of a contumacious man, unwilling to allow a single shard of light to enter the tatterdemalion apartment.  

Tom Hanratty (Preston Acuff) sits alone in his home nursing a bottle of whiskey.  The bitterness of being blind weighs upon his worth.  He is a pathetically mendacious man who offers little of his self-appeal to anyone who would walk through the door.  And his past life as “the most dangerous cabdriver in New York City” had not been fruitful—thanks to his use of alcohol and an unfortunate accident that left him completely blind.

Now, on this day, Tom sits alone, waiting for his best friend to come and temporary save him from his miserable day. He sits in a chair, a reposeful expression of a man holding a glass in profound darkness, waiting. Only a trace of light highlights this lone figure sitting, wishing more, to have someone come to him.   

Not that anyone could get through the door, with the latch on, and the multiple bolts unlocked.  Still, Tom waits—halfway—an obsequious trait of his morbid curiosity.

Why should a helpless blind man worry about intruders on the day before Christmas Eve?

And in this dark, dank, lightless venue, Tom waits for his friend, Lou D’ Marco (Ned Liebl), who is the life of his own party. Lou arrives at the anointed time but cannot get in through the front door with the latch on. Urging Tom to open the door, Lou pushes to get in.

“Go ahead.” – Lou

“Don’t push.” – Tom

“I’m not.” – Lou

“Don’t push.  I’ve got to close it.” – Tom

“I’m not pushin’”! – Lou

Lou seems to be blinded by his intelligence, or lack thereof, but might also be playing a game they always play when he arrives as he struggles to get through the door.  Lou senses that something’s wrong. Oh yeah, it’s dark, in Tom’s apartment.  The lights have burned out, and there are no bulbs under the sink, so Lou “borrows” a light from the hallway.

Now Tom’s upset about stealing a light from the hallway; he worries about the landlord and the fat Puerto Rican guy with his eight kids all on welfare.  And to top that off, this guy’s dog pees and poops in the hallway causing Tom to use extreme caution when he comes and goes to the bathroom that is down the hall.

Lou tries to calm Tom’s pugnacious instincts a little bit knowing how his friend gets.  No need to go ape stepping in dog excrement on the eve of the eve of Christmas.  

With the lights on, Lou presents Tom with a Christmas card.

“What’s the card say?  What’s it look like?” – Tom

“Well, there’s this chick on the cover with really big tits.” - Lou

Of course it’s just a dime store card with a reindeer on it, or some such nonsense.

Whether Lou’s being honest or just playing along, the two get along great.  But one gets a little queasy by the act of dishonesty one minute and Lou exchanging cash for checks with a blind man the next minute.

There is now a slight problem.  Lou has met a woman, a lawyer, and he is moving to Vermont with her. He met her while taking a college class and didn’t really have to say or do much to get her. Lou hints that Tom should start getting out.

“You need to get out more, Tom.” – Lou

“I get out plenty.” – Tom

“Out to Smiler’s the liquor store… You should, I dunno,  just get “out” more.  Go places, do things.” – Lou

Lou says the place is starting to look real bad.  (And he’s right.) Lou suggests that the “blind place” people are willing to help.  Tom is finally getting the jest of what Lou is saying and now wants to throw Lou out of his apartment.  And just has he opens the door, Edna Miles (Sasha Kapustina) is at the door waiting to come in and change his life.

Edna is bundled from top to toe—it’s cold outside—and she plans on staying to help.  But that’s going to take some doing because Tom is not hip to the idea.  Lou throws her back outside, tells her to give them a minute while they talk.  But Edna is now wailing outside, about the cold, and the dog running around in the hallway.

This show has been in a workshop for about a year (for God’s sakes, don’t tell Equity!) and the work shows.  Under John Markland’s direction, there is a rigorous simplicity, a respectful sleekness for much of the hard work displayed on stage.  Given how shows are usually thrown onto the boards with a limited rehearsal schedule, it is refreshing to see so much life, subtext, and characterization on display. In short, Markland’s work is a theatrical triumph that manages to capture the subtle nuances of each character’s objective. Markland also has a knack for finding fantastic actors time and time again and presenting them in all their glory at the Moth Theatre.

Strangely, one has to cudgel my brain to comprehend the title “Light Sensitive”, how that relates to the three characters. And while one character may be blind one suspects the other two are sensitive in ways they must overcome personal conflicts. Jim Geoghan’s play is marvelous and stands the test of time because the characters are real and in real life or death situations.  This all makes for a delightful night of comedy.    

Preston Acuff does a marvelous job as Tom, a man who has lost hope of being able to overcome his blindness.  Tom is not doing the things he’s supposed to be doing; he is not moving on with his life or taking steps to make his life simpler.  He’s stop taking baths, he relies on his only friend for help, and he has given up on women. There is a lot of great work, physical characteristics, and digressions that make up this remarkable character. Acuff does an amazing job.

Sasha Kapustina is remarkable as Edna.  Edna has something she wants to hide and it’s her disability.  She walks on the side of her right foot and there is also something wrong with her right side, as she is unable to use her right arm and hand. Edna is looking for a relationship, which is obvious in the performance. Kapustina is marvelously funny in a clever dry fashion and takes her time letting the moments play out.  One loves watching this actor, with fine strong Russian features, think on stage and then quietly taking the time to tell her story.  (Although, I think there could be more to the raccoon story, how it defines the relationship, and how it manages to bring the two together.) There is hardly a trace of an accent from Kapustina who came to Los Angeles from Moscow on a Fulbright Scholarship four years ago. In short, her work is astonishing.

Ned Liebl fills the role of Lou.  Liebl is a marvelous actor that brings a lot of depth to the character. Liebl throws us a few curves in his character where we are not really sure of his motives, which could be sinister, or something about the character Liebl does not want you to see until the time is right.  Who would hang his hat on top of his best friends Christmas tree? Liebl does the small things that create a solid character and we are never really sure of his motives until final moments of the play.  It is outstanding work that contributes to making this production soar.

Wonderfully produced by Brenda Davidson.  Daniel Coronel is the Stage Manager. Max Barsness creative the Graphic Design and Michael Roth was the Composer/Soundscape. 

Run! Run! Run!  And take a friend with a slight disability who loves to laugh!   

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