FEEDING ON LIGHT
by Lenora Champagne
Directed by Bruce DuBose
Stage Manager-Katie Hamilton
Shannon Kearns- Katherine
Jenny Ledel- Simone
Joanna Schellenberg- Nora
Scenic Design by Robert Winn
Lighting Design by Steve Woods
Properties Design by Cindy Ernst-Godinez
Reviewed Performance: 11/13/2022
Reviewed by Mildred Austin, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
On a Sunday autumn afternoon, I ventured to Deep Ellum to the Undermain Theatre to join an audience for the production of FEEDING ON LIGHT. This is the World Premier for this new play written by Lenora Champagne. The work was introduced by Bruce DuBose whose involvement is threefold: he is the Artistic Director for Undermain Theatre, he directed this current production, and the play was commissioned by his late wife, Katherine Owens, a fervent admirer of the subject, Simone Weil. DuBose wove these connections together for the audience and outlined not only how the work came to be but the difficulties incurred in bringing it to life.
Simone Weil, a French-born teacher, writer, and labor activist who was active during the 1930s and ‘40s, is the subject of this drama. Her life and work had drawn minimal attention until the latter part of the century. Katherine Owens became interested in Weil and longed to see the intensity of the latter brought to life on the stage and eventually persuaded Ms. Champagne to this mission. Ms. Champagne, who sports a long, long list of literary and theatrical credits to her name, secured a residency in France and began wrangling the many “lives” and passions of Weil to life, culminating in FEEDING THE LIGHT.
Three women people on the stage at all times, as they are inextricably linked through ideas, purposes, genders, and appeal: Katherine (Owens), Nora (Champagne), and Simone (Weil). The set is both physically interesting, and also functional. Scrims function well to separate past stories from present retelling and detail as well as allow various projections to be displayed from time to time. I found the scrims useful, but not for the projections, which tended to call attention away from the action rather than enhance it. There was a great deal of “dead space” upstage, which at first concerned me, but the director made use of it in integrative ways which proved that designation incorrect. The realism of downstage vs the past with Simone far stage left (a metaphor?) mid-stage worked well.
The three actors, all members of Actor’s Equity, were easy in their characters and easy to follow vocally, except Ledel, whose words were sometimes “mushed” in the excitement of her character initially but became fuller and more distinct as the play progressed. Their characters and their words echoed reality at all times. And, as could be predicted, with only three characters, and all central to the story being told, in a 90-minute program, there were a lot of words spoken. A. Lot. It is the mark of a professional that every word was real.
With all the accolades I could give, I have to admit this was a difficult production to review. It didn’t fit the mold of a play. It was actually more of a staged reading but without scripts in hand. Given that truth, it is incredibly difficult, if not impossible to hold an audience’s attention for 90 minutes. It is 90 minutes of words, meaningful words, but mostly words, with some gratuitous stage business thrown in for Katherine and Nora. The words make up information, reminiscing, and questions, and it is like controlling a team of horses to keep it from veering over into a lecture.
This had to be a difficult production from inception to finish, inexorably weighed down by the fact that Katherine Owens, whose obsession to bring the work and stories of Weil to life, died fully three years before FEEDING ON LIGHT was finally able to hit the boards. I cannot imagine the difficulty for Bruce DuBose, Katherine’s husband, to guide the final installment of his wife’s dream to reality. A tribute to Katherine, to Bruce, to Ms. Champagne, and, of course, Simone Weil. Well, done, all who have been involved.
FEEDING ON LIGHT
November 10-27, 2022
Undermain Theatre, 3200 Main St., Dallas, 75226
For ticket times and prices: 214-747-5515, firstname.lastname@example.org