Most theater companies are content to explore the human condition, but Arlington's newest troupe is dedicated to going a step or two beyond that.
Shadows of Light seeks "the intersection of faith, art and the human experience." The company believes that understanding the "faith element" is essential to understanding characters and a playwright's themes. The company plans to present plays that will provoke discussion, beginning with a presentation of two simple, character-driven one-act plays.
"I Bring You Flowers," by William Lang, is actually more of a vignette, a 20-minute look at an emotionally damaged woman and the loving husband who tries to connect her to the world. Seated on a park bench, Faye (Lisa Hawkins) and Jim (John Pierce) at first seem the picture of happy normalcy as they chat while Faye tends a baby stroller. But it doesn't take long to sense that Faye is going to extraordinary lengths to maintain her psychological equilibrium. She seems stuck in some dark past, deflecting her husband's gentle attempts to bring her into the present as she continually asks questions that have no answers. "If all the flowers in the world looked alike," she asks him, "what color would they be?"
What seems playful at first soon becomes ominous as her detachment from reality becomes more and more obvious and a sense of the psychological wound, the soul-searing trauma that has scarred her, emerges. "I Bring You Flowers" slowly reveals the truth as it begins to dawn on the audience that the pleasant surroundings and the couple's time together are not what they seem at first.
In "Confessions," a 50-minute drama by Chapin Garner, a cantankerous hospital patient named Gus (Richard Breen), about to undergo heart bypass surgery, demands to see a priest. Unable to locate a priest, Nurse Linda (Cheryl Dewenter) sends him Andrew (Mark Miller), a reluctant and insecure novice who is about to become a Presbyterian minister. Gus is seeking solace before his surgery and hopes that an act of confession will help him achieve what he calls "safe passage" by mending a 35-year estrangement from his church, if not his faith. "It's not like I was a model Catholic," he says, "but I put in my time."
Andrew is mild-mannered and skittish, hardly the image of strength and certainty for a person facing serious surgery. But Gus may have more inner strength than he realizes, as he accepts the fact that there won't be a priest to help him cross the threshold back into faith. And as it turns out, Andrew needs help with his own crisis of faith.
Both plays are directed by Hawkins, who displays a deft touch finding the nuances in seemingly simple material. She appreciates the rate at which the audience will comprehend emerging themes as layers are peeled away onstage, calibrating the dynamics of pacing and energy that are either subtly leading or perhaps merely coinciding with the mounting awareness of the viewer.
While all the actors turn in effective performances, Mark Miller is most notable as the reluctant spiritual guide who blurts out to the patient that he "can't see how God is possible." In a play that blends irony with touches of humor, the role of the doubtful Presbyterian could easily become a one-dimensional joke, but Miller imbues Andrew with enough nuance that when he is forced to examine his own relationship with God in order to help Gus, there are depths from which to draw. "In my heart I believe," he realizes. "I just don't have language for it." In that declaration the characters of Gus and Andrew find common ground, not only with each other, but with the audience, as well.
"I Bring You Flowers" and "Confessions," performed by Shadows of Light, continue through Saturday at First Baptist Church of Clarendon, 1210 N. Highland St., Arlington. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday. For tickets or information, call 703-593-7642. For more information, visit www.ShadowsofLight.org.