‘Legacy of Light’ shines on stage



Staff writer Cecilia Mitchell reviews TheatreUNI’s production of “Legacy of Light.” The play will continue to show through March 1 and 2 at 7:30 p.m. and March 3 at 2 p.m.


TheatreUNI’s production of “Legacy of Light” opened Thursday, Feb. 21, in Strayer-Wood Theatre. Students and community members alike were greeted by an array of hanging lights over the stage as they took their seats. A short and comical voiceover of pre-show reminders gave the audience their first taste of the characters that soon would fill the space with their bright energy.

“Legacy of Light” by Karen Zacarias begins with the story of Émilie du Châtelet, a real life 18th century female scientist from France who made unaccredited strides in physics research. Émilie (freshman Danielle Schmaltz) is first joined onstage by her lover, Jean François de Saint-Lambert (freshman Jonathon Schaffer). The pair is interrupted by the writer Voltaire (senior Jakob Reha). Voltaire resides with Émilie in her home and is also her lover, research partner and longtime companion. The action that follows combines comedy, combat and drama that sets the scene for the intricate, twisting tale to come.

The play then jumps forward over 200 years to present-day New Jersey, where we meet Olivia, an accomplished scientist who has potentially just discovered the formation of a new planet light years away. Olivia, who was played by understudy Quinn Rauchenecker on opening night, is joined by her husband Peter (junior Noah Hynick) in excitement over her work. The mood changes quickly when Olivia reveals that recent events have inspired her desire for a baby again.

Zacarias’ script juxtaposes the stories of these two female scientists, separated by time but bonded by more than just the journey of motherhood, in a touching form of magical realism that gains in intensity and complexity as the play goes on. Director Amy Osatinski, associate professor of theatre, succeeded in her choice of a script that combines female empowerment with history, science and morality. I was impressed with the timing and staging of the show as well; interludes between scenes allowed for the intricacies of the story to be contextualized while actors made full use of the stage and its unique components.

The set, designed by Ron Koinzan with assistant scenic designer senior Natalie Ervolino, featured multiple platforms and a big metal apple tree. Furniture that denoted place and time were moved on and off stage by silent, costumed stagehands who added another layer to the story during scene changes. The light theme was well-integrated into the set, including some delightful surprises towards the end.

The lighting designer, senior Chris Hanian, did a wonderful job with this production. Crucial to a show with such focus on metaphorical and literal light, I was impressed with the timing of light in conjunction with the script and the visual contrast created between scenes. The light design added a wondrous element to the show that was well-executed and greatly intensified the story.

Contrast was integral to the story of “Legacy of Light,” and designer Amy Rohrberg successfully provided that in the costuming. Émilie and her daughter Pauline (freshman Maren Borer) graced the stage in elaborate and puffy 18th-century gowns while contemporary character Millie (sophomore Zoe Sneed) donned quirky modern fashion. The big white powdered wigs atop the French characters added a fun and accurate historical component.

Backed by technical excellence, the actors of “Legacy of Light” brought the show and its deeper meanings to life. Schmaltz, in her second mainstage role of her freshman year, portrayed Émilie du Châtelet with believable grace and conviction. She did not falter once throughout the entire two-and-a-half hour run. Hynick’s performance was also one of my favorites; the physicality of his comedy not only brought essential energy to the stage, but also made his serious moments even more dynamic in contrast.

Rauchenecker excelled at portraying the maturity and insecurity of her middle-aged, academic role. Sneed’s pregnancy portrayal felt real and she made her character’s struggle relatable. Freshman Thayne Lamb, the understudy who played Millie’s brother Lewis, also brought a genuine and raw energy to the stage in his tense scenes.

Some of my favorite onstage moments were between Reha’s Voltaire and freshman Sam Sweere’s Marquis du Châtelet. Sweere did a great job of bringing comedic value to this character. Reha’s performance throughout the night was funny, sincere and moving — a definite highlight of the production.

What made this show so successful acting-wise to me wasn’t just the well-cast named characters. The nonverbal components of this show told stories just through action and expression, but were intriguing and easy to follow. All of these strong components, technically and in performance, furthered the meaning of Zacarias’ meaningful and complex script.

No production is perfect, and at first, I was not sure that I would enjoy “Legacy of Light.” There was the occasional abrupt end to music or pixelated projection, and the jump between time periods at first had me concerned with the continuity. However, with every scene, the story became more enthralling and complicated. The juxtaposed storylines became more integrated, and I found myself personally connected to and invested in this play and its characters. I appreciated the careful thought and hard work put into this show that manifested in a truly magical experience for the audience.

By the end of the night, I was enamored with the show and plan to attend again during its second weekend. “Legacy of Light” will continue Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Feb. 28, March 1 and 2, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 3 at 2 p.m. For lovers of theatre, history, science, empowerment or even just seekers of good, fun entertainment, this production is a must-see.