She Turned on the Light
nytheatre.com review by Shelley Molad
November 14, 2009
She Turned on the Light is a one-woman show, written and directed by Wendy Woodson and performed by Marina Libel. Presented at La MaMa E.T.C., the piece explores themes of memory, loss, love, and reconciliation. We are confronted with the question: Do strangers share memories? Composed mainly as a dialogue between Lila, a young American woman, and Noon, an "Old World" refugee, She Turned on the Light evokes the potency of storytelling and its evolution through the generations that separate these two women.
Told with expressive gesture and physical behavior, the piece also examines the way we use our body to communicate, especially when words and language become a barrier. Libel reveals how much of our inner life can be expressed and manifested through physical behavior. She creates lively activity out of sitting on a chair and talking on the phone—I never knew a person's feet could be so interesting to watch on stage.
Libel is extremely engaging and always interesting, but because the narrative is not entirely fluid or cohesive in sequence and clarity, it can be hard to follow. Lila's relationship to Noon is never quite clear. Whether or not Noon exists, is a figment of Lila's imagination, or is an incarnation of Lila in the past remains a mystery. Woodson may have intended this to be open for interpretation, but the ambiguity of Noon's character (where she is from, what language she speaks) makes her less interesting. Instead I imagined my own grandmother sitting on a chair and telling me stories.
There is a love story entwined, introducing a mysterious character named Lucas, who may or may not be the same man they both encounter on a train...these questions, which blur the line between fantasy and reality, seem to detract from the piece and force the audience to work harder than they should to fill the gaps.
There are a couple of transitions in which Libel talks to the audience, in character as Lila. Her ability to suddenly break the fourth wall seamlessly, and speak to us candidly, retaining her rich physical life, is most entertaining.
Other than the struggle to piece together the narrative and clarify the characters' relationships, She Turned on the Light is a fascinating exploration of gesture and language and our reliance on them to communicate.