Most theater companies happily explore the human condition, but one of the area's newest troupes is going a step or two beyond that. With a production opening this weekend in Silver Spring, Shadows of Light Productions seeks "the intersection of faith, art and the human experience." The company plans to use theater to provoke discussion, beginning with "An Evening of One-Act Plays," which just concluded a run in Arlington.
"I Bring You Flowers" by William Lang is more vignette than one-act play, a 20-minute look at an emotionally damaged, disengaged 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 normality as they chat while Faye tends to 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 by continually asking questions that have no answers. "If all the flowers in the world looked alike," she asks him, "what color would they be?"
What is playful at first soon seems ominous as her detachment from reality becomes increasingly obvious and a sense of the psychological wound, the soul-searing trauma that has scarred her, emerges. "I Bring You Flowers" gradually reveals the truth as it dawns on the audience that the pleasant surroundings and the couple's time together are not what they seem.
In "Confessions," a 50-minute drama by Chapin Garner, Gus (Richard Breen), a cantankerous hospital patient about to undergo heart bypass surgery, demands to see a Catholic priest. Exasperated Nurse Linda (Cheryl Dewenter), unable to locate one, sends him Andrew (Mark Miller), a reluctant and insecure seminarian 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 from which a person facing serious surgery might find comfort and spiritual reassurance. But Gus may have more inner strength than he realizes, accepting the fact that there won't be a priest to help him cross the threshold back into his faith. And as it turns out, Andrew needs help with his own crisis of belief.
Both plays are directed by Lisa 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 matching the mounting awareness of the viewer.
While all the actors turn in effective performances, 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 relationship with God 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" are being performed by Shadows of Light Productions through Nov. 13 at the First Baptist Church of Silver Spring, 8415 Fenton St. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. tomorrow, Nov. 12 and Nov. 13 and 7 p.m. Saturday. For tickets or information, call 703-593-7642. For information, visit www.shadowsoflight.org.