You can run, but you can't hide. Religion seems to be everywhere these days, infusing everything from mainstream films (Kingdom of Heaven) to the Broadway stage (Doubt) to our national government's rhetoric. Joshua Feldman's play How Light is Spent examines the effects of religion and belief on the lives of four seemingly disparate characters. This cleverly wrought character study is a virtual human crockpot. But instead of boiling these characters down to their essentials, Feldman adds too much to the mix, leaving us with a puzzling array of actions, motivations, and outcomes. The play begins and ends with Judith and her boyfriend, Peter, who lies in a hospital bed receiving treatment for cancer. Judith, a stubborn atheist, cannot understand his new affiliation as a born again Christian, so she decides to break up with him. She moves back home to live with her widowed father, Ezra, a rabbi.
Ezra has befriended Amanda, a young girl who wanders into his synagogue one day. A recovering religious fanatic to the extreme (she recites religious texts by heart and once nailed her hand to a board), Amanda is being treated for schizophrenia. She adopts Ezra as a father figure of sorts and discovers that a traumatic event in her past somewhat fatefully links her to Peter, Ezra, and Judith. As Amanda reveals her secret, their lives are changed and they must reposition themselves both in their ideas of faith and their relationships with one another.
What does it cost to believe? How do we define and create faith? Why do we move toward (or away from) religion and notions of faith? How Light is Spent, with its captivating title, asks us to examine how faith works and reworks the lives of its characters. Faith cannot exist in a vacuum, and here we find characters who influence, challenge, bolster, shake and deny each other's faith.
It is also a critique of the believer. Each character accepts or rejects faith for unique reasons, often for what it can bring him or her. As Peter puts it, "If I have cancer, I'll have my reward. If I believe in the cancer, I can believe in God."
Paul Gelinas's set works brilliantly in design but fails in execution. He has framed the stage with a three-sided box of wooden boards, which cover the floor, ceiling, and back wall of the stage. As the show progresses, the upstage planks individually move forward and backward to create different configurations. The design seems to suggest the changing landscape of the characters' beliefs and relationships, but unfortunately the scene changes take so long that they distract from the show's flow.
Alison Cherry's lighting shines beautifully and hauntingly through the cracks between the boards, and an uncredited sound designer provides underscoring throughout the play that creates a cohesive mood