A LIGHT IN DARK PLACES: A COLLECTION OF PLAYS FOR HOPEA Light in Dark Places
A Light In Dark Places
Produced by Kelly O’Malley
Co-Produced by Meagan Harris and Kristina O’Malley
Original Music by Jack Brewer & Caleb Dietz
Light Design – Branson White
Theater Manager – Stewart Mikkelsen
Stage Manager – Ale Fips
Board Operator – Yaletzy Alaniz
House Manager – Jorja Williams
Reception Design – Katie O’Malley
Mural by Ana Haaland
Graphic Design by Jill Duddleston
Still Photographer – Zack Huggins
PLAYS, PLAYWRIGHTS, DIRECTORS, & CASTS
HAPPY MERRY by Michael P. Adams
Directed by Chris Miller
Nell – Olivia Cinquepalmi
Mother – Nancy Sherrard
Ezra – Stephen Brodie
PACKING by Jessica Moss
Directed by Lauren Leblanc
Jackie – Savannah Lloyd
Fiona – Jule Nelson-Duac
HOPE SPRINGS A TURTLE By Bill Brohaugh and Lisa Holt
Directed by Ale Fips
Dr. Jorgensen – Isabelle Culpepper
Blair – Mikaela Baker
JOIE DE VIVRE by Joe Godfrey
Directed by Morgana Wilborn
Grandpa – Thad Isbell
Terri – Tilly Zinser
THE AGGRAVATIONS OF IZZY
Written by Jessica Moss
Directed by Ale Fips
Izzy – Kelly O’Malley
Lillian – Meagan Harris
Waitress – Shalisha Sheridan
Reviewed Performance: 4/8/2023
Reviewed by Chris Hauge, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Started in 2016 by founder Kelly O’Malley, whose life was affected by the suicide of her father, A Light in Dark Places seeks to remove the societal taboos around mental health in this country. Using art as a way to raise awareness of the problem, this evening of performances, combined with a question-and-answer session with some of the cast and crew and a visiting mental health professional, seeks to offer solace and a way forward to those left behind. It is also a call out to those struggling with depression or loneliness that there is help available. When all of us work together, maybe we can rescue more people who feel that they are lost forever.
The message is the focus of the evening, but that doesn't mean you endure 70 minutes of lectures. The plays, selected from submissions from around the country, are both entertaining and enlightening. Performed in front of a wonderful mural, designed by Ana Haaland, and enhanced by the lighting design of Branson White, any other set pieces are minimal, so the focus is on the plays and the acting. The direction of each work is crisp and well-paced. And though the endings of a couple of the scripts are wrapped up a little too neatly with a pink ribbon, that does not undercut the message or the emotional validity of the works. Each play is professionally presented, and the actors perform their roles with heart and skill.
“Happy Merry,” written by Michael P. Adams, kicks off the evening. We meet Ezra (Stephen Brodie) and his very pregnant wife Nell (Olivia Cinquepalmi) as they are traveling by car to spend Christmas with his mother (Nancy Sherrard) and sister. Due to Nell’s condition, there are frequent bathroom stops. During one of these, Ezra receives a call from his Mom with a request that forces him to ponder his relationship with his sister and his obligations to his family. Peppered with moments of humor, many of them provided by Ms. Sherrard, the story validly covers the rocky terrain of family dynamics. Mr. Brodie clearly shows Ezra’s struggle in coming to terms with the situation and Ms. Cinquepalmi is charming and touching as Nell, especially when she speaks about what she wants in the future for her soon-to-be-born daughter.
The second play, “Packing,” by Jessica Moss, introduces us to Jackie (Savannah Lloyd) and Fiona (Jule Nelson-Duac), the wife and mother, respectively, of a man who took his life by suicide. They are sorting through boxes of his things and are looking for answers to why this happened. The emotional connection between Ms. Lloyd and Ms. Nelson-Duac is very real and raw. This was one where I thought the ending was a little too pat, but the actors made it emotionally rewarding and worth watching.
We enter the realm of the quirky with “Hope Springs a Turtle,” written by Bill Brohaugh and Lisa Holt. Blair (Mikaela Baker) is in the hospital for observation and expecting a visit from another ‘brain-squeezer.’ Instead, she gets Dr. Jorgensen (Isabelle Culpepper), a surgical-booted whirlwind with a colorful cane, a stream-of-consciousness speaking style, and a fake turtle. It is the relationship between the characters that makes this play sing. Ms. Culpepper gives herself over completely to the role as she travels a wildly circuitous route to get to the heart of the problem. As Blair, Ms. Baker is pulled in at first, but slowly opens up to the point where she delivers the message of hope at the end simply by saying the word ‘tomorrow.’
We are off to hunt for Grandpa’s lost joy of life in playwright Joe Godfrey’s “Joi De Vivre.” Terri (Tilly Zinser) has learned from her parents that Grandpa (Thad Isbell) has misplaced his Joi De Vivre (her pronunciation of the French language is similar to my own), and she is going to help him find it again. As Grandpa, Mr. Isbell credibly shows a man dealing with grief and depression as he tries, without success, to convince his granddaughter that he is all right. Ms. Zinser is all innocence and energy as the young girl is determined to find that pesky Joi De Vivre. And if the play is wrapped up a little too neatly, I think that’s the way I wanted it to end.
“The Aggravations of Izzy,” written by Jessica Moss, is arguably the strongest of a night of powerful productions. We encounter Izzy (Kelly O’Malley) at a restaurant as she waits for the always-late Lillian (Meagan Harris). Breaking the fourth wall, Izzy tells us that with all the pressure in her life, the last thing she wants to do is to go out for brunch with Lillian. After Lillian finally arrives and they are led to their table by the waitress (Shalisha Sheridan), it becomes apparent that both women need each other for emotional support more than either of them thought possible. Both Ms. O’Malley and Ms. Harris are powerful actors. In particular, Meagan Harris is spectacular to watch as she tries to project a cheerful face to the world as the pain inside threatens to overwhelm her. It’s like watching someone balancing on a razor blade. Ms. O’Malley believably makes the shift from irritation to empathy. Ms. Sheridan, as the waitress, gets a lovely moment when she talks about how wonderful it is to see two friends together and how she misses that connection.
Don’t miss the discussion after the performances (the night my wife and I were there, the audience was asked not to leave, so you may not have a choice). It provides great information about the mission of A Light in Dark Places and gives you the chance to find out more about the mental health resources available in the area.
And don’t let the subject matter keep you away from seeing this program. This is not about darkness and despair. It seeks to provide light and hope. And for those who have lost a family member or friend to suicide, or for those who have contemplated or attempted to take their own lives (myself included in that number), that is a beautiful and necessary gift to receive.
So, come support the cause and help spread the light.
Presented by A Light in Dark Places
April 7, 8, 13, and 14 at 8:00 PM
April 15 at 2:00PM & 8:00 PM
The Bath House Cultural Center
521 E. Lawther Dr., Dallas, TX 75214
For tickets and more information, please visit the Web at ALIGHTINDARKPLACES.ORG
Tickets also available at alipdtx.eventbrite.com