“You can lose the biggest thing in your life and it doesn’t make a sound,” says James, a science teacher at a local Brooklyn school, in a voice strangled with awe as much as grief in Lucid, a new play by Jordan Smedberg that is being staged at the Cherry Lane Theater as part of the Fringe Festival. Relentlessly keeping the wheels of your mind turning, the play feels a bit like a dream as it strives to link the scientific and the supernatural through the loss of a loved one. James, played by the amiable Jeremy Goren, spends the bulk of the play grieving for his wife Natalie (Natalie Thomas), who died from a heart condition. He tries to impress upon his students, represented by Ronald Washington as Jerome and Harhi Harris as Gerald, the theory of “dark energy,” an unknown form of energy comprising 73 percent of the universe that in the play comes to represent consciousness and a possible link between the world of the living and the world of the dead.
James’ relationship with Natalie is told in a series of flashbacks. When his grief causes him to sleep much of the day, we truly meet Natalie, who manifests in James’ dreams. She walks the audience through the sleep cycles, linking the mind's existence in a sleep state to the possibility of existing in parallel worlds.
Goren, Washington and Harris all benefit from the playwright’s ability to create characters that seem very human and to capture the difference in dialogue and speech patterns from character to character, which makes line delivery flow naturally. In fact, the chemistry among the three actors, especially between Goren and Washington, is a particularly striking aspect of the play.
Goren adeptly embodies the amicable awkwardness and mild eccentricity of a science teacher and radiates the weight of extreme grief from the inside out. Thomas does triple duty as Natalie in the present, the memory or spirit of Natalie, and Natalie the narrator. Thomas seems comfortable playing Natalie in the present; it’s when she assumes the other facets of her character that her performance gets a bit muddled.
Mariel Goddu’s direction of the play’s surreal aspects at times is poignant and effective and at other times feels forced. The appearance of Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud in certain dream sequences seems superfluous, while it's quite compelling to see Thomas slither out of her shirt and disappear as her character passes out, leaving James at one moment holding her unconscious body and at the next holding an empty shirt to symbolize her death.
With a title that simultaneously means luminous, sane and intelligible, Lucid both fulfills and contradicts each definition of the word at any given moment and provides a thought-provoking, intense and intellectual evening. It is still a work in progress, but it is also a work of great profundity and promise.