A kind stop for death: “Lighting”

Photo courtesy of David Weiland.

Presented by Double Edge Theatre
Lightning
Directed and devised by DE Design Director Jeremy Louise Eaton
and co-created with the DE Company (Amanda Miller, Dylan Young, Phoebe Hiltermann, Ewa Timingeriu)
Lighting and sound design by John Peitso

My Soul is in Command: a tragi-comic musical creep show
Conceived, written, performed by Robert Carlton
With guidance from Jennifer Johnson

November 4-6, 2022
Performed at The Farm
948 Conway Road
Ashfield, MA MA 01330

Review by Maegan Bergeron-Clearwood

Leaving the barn performance space at Double Edge Theatre this weekend felt like stumbling off of a merry-go-round. As my friend and I removed our masks and breathed in the fresh farm air, our eyes drifted upward; for a breath or two, we found ourselves stunned by the moon spinning through the sky, until we realized it was just the clouds, not the universe, drifting across our gaze. I’m not sure if we would have fallen under the spell of this cosmic optical illusion if we hadn’t just emerged from Lightning, a dizzying, trickster-y performance that blurred the edges between dream and reality.

Before the show itself, the audience was treated to My Soul is in Command: a tragi-comic musical creep show, written and performed by Robert Carlton. In a cabaret number straight out of a David Lynch film, Carlton grooved in slow motion and sang echo-y, existential conversations with himself – a thematic gesture toward the deconstructed internal landscape we were about to enter and a gentle disruption from the audience’s sense of reality. The pre-show entertainment was not only complementary to the main show, but it performed the nifty trick of throwing the audience off balance as we embarked into the unknown.

Photo courtesy of David Weiland

Conceived and directed by Jeremy Louise Eaton, Lighting pulls spectators into the paradoxically perilous and comforting inner world of its unnamed, Alice-esque protagonist. She sits on the edge of a four-poster bed and tells us that Death – which we will come to know as a character, process, concept, and metaphor – is something with which she is already intimately familiar.

We’re about to fall down a particularly twisted rabbit hole, where the laws of physics and linear time no longer apply, but unlike Alice as she stumbles through Wonderland, there’s a surety on the part of the protagonist: however strange and terrifying this waltz with Death may seem at times, rebirth is always around the corner.

As soon as the protagonist, bed and all, is swallowed up by her subconscious, she fractures into multiple internal selves, who in turn encounter a variety of deathlike creatures: one made of bone, one of earth, and one seemingly of shadow. Sometimes the selves are terrified of these Creatures; sometimes bewildered, amused, or delighted by them.

This fluid relationship with Death is perfectly complemented by Amanda Miller and Dylan Young’s musical compositions: haunting, with a touch of punk, featuring song lyrics from the poetry of Emily Dickinson.

Perhaps it’s the show’s proximity to Halloween, but Lighting felt in conversation with Dickinson across the grave, muddling the boundaries between death and birth, human and nonhuman, sleep and wakefulness. The selves are full of death even as they are living; one pulls clumps of dirt from her chest, only to discover that a garden was growing beneath her dress; another gleefully munches on sparks of fire; two of the selves perform funereal rights for another two selves, washing the feet of the deceased and covering the bodies in white shrouds.

The costumes and set sometimes evoke the sparse, surrealist world of a Samuel Beckett play, but there’s a distinct feeling of hope – that thing with feathers – that keeps Lighting from slipping into meaningless despair.

The performance ends, if you can call it an end, with an embrace: the trio Creatures creep onstage, almost presentationally, rather than half-hidden in shadows and under floorboards, as they have been for most of the play. The bone Creature, arguably the most unsettling with its animal skull head, wraps its arms around one of the human selves, resting a spindly hand on her back.

Photo courtesy of David Weiland.

Later, as my friend and I recovered our senses after thinking that the moon had become untethered from the sky, we discussed how strangely comforting it felt, to experience a story that literally welcomes darkness with outstretched arms – to kindly stop for Death and open one’s heart to the flowers that may bloom in its wake.

Lightning is the first of three Double Edge performances this fall, each running for a weekend. Something Else & reading premiere of How We Go Missing? (November 11 – November 12) and Rainbow Exodus November 18 – November 20.

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