There is not even a hint of staginess in Wendy Woodson’s one-woman play “She Turned On the Light.”
- Roslyn Sulcas, The New York Times
The play is a dialogue between Noon, an "Old World" refugee and Lila, a young contemporary American woman who is drawn close to Noon, but fearfully. In a series of overlapping episodes speaking in multiple voices to each other and in direct interaction with the audience, the two women discover that their lives have been running on parallel tracks with unexpected intersections across time and space, revealing shared memories of loss and love.
No issue is too small to unite the two women, or to divide them. The light in Noon's room (reflected in the title) is turned on and off to excite memories, or to soften them as memories change. At times, they seem to be simply contemporaries; at other times, Lila burrows aggressively into the older woman's past, to ferret out its secrets. While being alternately frustrated and angered by Lila's demands, Noon is also protective of her. Through a delicate and rapid-fire interplay between word, gesture and light, we accumulate bits and pieces of stories and memories that we can follow. But just when we think we are clearly located, a sudden shift or an unexpected interruption takes us on another path. What we think we know in one moment disappears to reveal another layer of possibility. Is Noon dead or alive? Are Noon and Lila the same person or are they passing through one another in some mystical transformation? Who is Lucas, the enigmatic lover that Noon lost when she had to escape Europe and Lila meets on a train? These questions bring us to surprising revelations that speak to multiple experiences of displacement and desires for reconciliation.
A carefully choreographed interplay between word and gesture is a specialty of Wendy Woodson's work, making it firmly interdisciplinary. From her experiences living in Brazil, Portugal and many other countries in her youth, Woodson has discovered inspirations, challenges and questions that relate to how and why she makes performance. She notes that when you move to a new country, gestural language becomes crucially important and inner lives are revealed through physical action.
In writing "She Turned on the Light," Woodson drew on many stories of immigrants and refugees that she has been collecting from different continents to create one composite narrative. The piece also draws freely on experiences from Marina Libel's family, which had to leave Poland for Brazil during the World War II, and on Libel’s own experience of moving from Brazil to the United States at a young age.
The work is part of the "Cross Continental" series of Present Company, Inc. (www3.amherst.edu/~wwoodson/PresentCompany), which has a national reputation for innovative and exciting interdisciplinary performances of outstanding quality. It is part of Woodson's six year-old project, "Cross Continental," an ongoing series of interrelated dance, theater and video pieces that deal with exile, memory and reconciliation.
Wendy Woodson is a writer, director, choreographer, video artist and founder and Artistic Director of Present Co. Inc. To date Woodson has created eighty five works for the stage and for video exhibition that have been presented throughout the US, in Europe and Australia at such venues as the Washington Project for the Arts, Dance Place, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Emerson Majestic Theater, Wolf Trap, Jacob's Pillow, and the Virginia Museum of Art. Woodson has received numerous awards and grants for her playwriting, choreography, and video including fellowships and company grants from the National Endowment from the Arts from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Mid Atlantic Arts Consortium, Boston Film and Video Foundation and Amherst College. She has also won artist residencies at such places as the Rockefeller Bellagio Center, the Yard, Blue Mountain Arts Center and Ragdale, among others; most recently she was a Fulbright Scholar/Artist in Residence working in Melbourne Australia. In addition to her work as Artistic Director of Wendy Woodson and Present Company Inc., Woodson has been a guest artist with numerous dance and theater companies in the U.S., The Netherlands, Australia, Portugal and New Zealand where she has made work for other organizations. She is also professor of theater and dance at Amherst College and the Five College Dance Department.
Marina Libel is a performance maker, dancer and actor originally from Porto Alegre, Brazil. Her choreography and writing have been performed at such venues as Williamsburg Arts neXus, Dance New Amsterdam, Galapagos Art Space and Brooklyn Arts Exchange. As an actor, dancer and collaborator, she has performed at The Chocolate Factory, HERE Arts Center, The Flea Theater, Dixon Place, Judson Memorial Church, Merce Cunningham Studio, The Public Theater and P.S. 122. She has worked with various companies including Present Company, Nature Theater of Oklahoma, Man in Boat Theatre Co., Kayo Theater Works and South Pleasant Company. She has received grants and fellowships from the Brooklyn Arts Council, The Newington-Cropsey Foundation and others. She is currently pursuing an MA in performance studies at NYU.
The production is designed by Kathy Couch, a freelance lighting, scenic and costume designer from Northampton MA. She has worked extensively with Wendy Woodson and Present Company Inc., Impact Theater, Kinodance, Serious Play Theater Ensemble, as well as numerous other choreographers and performing groups. Her work is seen regularly in NYC, Athens, Greece, Boston and throughout New England. She is resident lighting designer for Ko International Festival of Performance, A.P.E. productions and designer in resident for the Five College Dance Department.
Plot Twists Staged by a Choreographer
by Roslyn Sulcas, The New York Times
If you spend most of your time watching dance, it’s easy to feel taken aback by a certain staginess that actors can bring to performance, an “I am acting now” overtone that crops up even among the great and the good. (Recent experiences at “After Miss Julie” and “Finian’s Rainbow” spring to mind.)
There is not even a hint of that quality in Wendy Woodson’s one-woman play “She Turned On the Light,” which opened at the Club at La MaMa E.T.C. on Friday night. Ms. Woodson’s career as a choreographer and video artist has helped her to weave speech and gestural patterns, narrative and abstraction, into a fluid whole that is unafraid of ambiguity or opaqueness.
But the key may be the remarkable performance of Marina Libel, who takes on the various personae of Ms. Woodson’s story with uncanny ease and fluency, offering characters who seem immediately both familiar and strange.
Dressed with carefully calibrated frumpiness, Ms. Libel spends much of the play slipping seamlessly between the characters of Lila, a young American woman, and Noon, an older refugee from an unnamed European country. Lila is awkward, shy, well meaning and self-centered. Noon is aloof, proud, wounded, uncommunicative.
Ms. Woodson’s strengths are less in the rather forced narratives that emerge (love stories, the secrets of Noon’s past, the relationship between the women) than in her ability to reveal much about Lila. Through the slippery elisions of the imaginary dialogues, she subtly transforms scenes of prosaic reality into abstract riffs that move easily into the terrain of the unconscious. (When Lila goes to a bar, she directly addresses audience members, seated at tables around the stage, but it is soon clear that while she may seem to be talking to them — “Is this seat taken?” — something more complicated is going on.)
Ms. Libel, who also has a dance background, perfectly captures the physical presence of the two women (and a few incidental characters), transforming herself from awkward youth to shrunken old age and back again. The naturalism of her performance makes you care about both characters, wonder about their stories; here, theater draws you toward something unassuming and real.