Dim Lights, Big City

Director Jaime Robert Carrillo deserves some credit for scouring American theatrical history and coming up with Hey You, Light Man! Unfortunately, Oliver Hailey's drama, which ran for six weeks early in 1963, doesn't attain the status of a lost classic in this production by the Firebrand Theory Theater Company. For a 45-year-old play written on the threshold of the sexual revolution, Light Man has a few notably modern elements that may on paper have dovetailed with Firebrand's mission: "to stir up public feelings by investigation of controversial issues and dramatizing the infinite mystery of the extraordinary in the ordinary." In its heroine, Lula Roca, recently widowed after a falling sandbag kills her brutish husband, Hailey has drawn a portrait of an abused wife in denial. The character still resonates, but in other respects Hailey's story, which echoes the incipient social rebellion of the period—the absurdism of Eugene Ionesco, the spirited bohemianism of Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the loosening sexual mores—works only fitfully.

Matinee idol Ashley Knight (Christopher Lee) is spending his first night living on the set of the comedy in which he stars when Lula (Sari Caine) appears. She has fallen asleep in her seat while waiting for her celebrity-crazed friend Mabel (Sonya Tsuchigane) to return from seeking autographs. Now Lula is locked in the theater and wants to get out to find Mabel.

Ashley, meanwhile, has decided to escape his annoying family and live on the stage, and he suggests that Lula remain with him. All this may sound like a promising setup for a screwball meditation about escapism versus reality, but it's leaden and labored.

Hailey throws in darker complications that are close to unpalatable. Lula has lost three children while on vacation in a national park; she explains rather coolly that one dashed for a waterfall and another for a mountain, and both were killed simultaneously. Her third child, an infant, was snatched by a bear through the car window and killed. "You mustn't grieve over them, Mrs. Boca," advises Ashley, who dislikes children.

In the strait-laced world of 1963, such flippancy may have come off as weirdly wacky, but modern audiences, familiar with parental neglect and spousal abuse, are unlikely to grin. If not for Lee's winning charm and unthreatening demeanor, which wear off gradually, Ashley might instantly strike a creepy chord.

The shoestring production cannot afford the visual details to help an audience suspend disbelief. Stage directions indicate that Act I takes place in "a modern bachelor's apartment, including a kitchenette." For a star vehicle, the eclectic décor, by Carrie Hash and Anita La Scala, looks mismatched: a microwave; a modern, black metal-frame sofa bed; an overstuffed woman's wing chair; and a brass dial telephone that Jean Harlow might have used.

The actors, too, are visually jarring. Gary Ferrar works hard for comedy as Ashley's dimwitted jock son Tube, but he and Lee, in spite of the latter's beard, look like frat brothers rather than parent and child. Tsuchigane tries for a comic-hysterical Mabel, dressed by Amy Pedigo in a whirlwind of gold lamé, fuchsia, leopard skin, and bangles; the actress's energy is laudable, but the effect is tiring. Caine, as Lula, locates her character's sexual awakening (tame for today) but could find more color.

"This is one of those symbolilic plays," says Mabel, describing the grim Act II slum set to which Ashley and Lula flee. Hailey's title is a call-out for theatrical magic to happen, and Lula eventually summons some (helped by lighting designer Adam Hale). But it's too little, and too late.

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