Human connection — essential or overrated? As the title suggests, “How the Light Gets In” at Boston Court Pasadena takes an affirmational stand on that one.
There’s nothing sentimental or facile, however, about this nuanced new play by the prolific E.M. Lewis (whose “Apple Season” was presented in July at Moving Arts). This debut staging by Boston Court’s literary manager, Emilie Pascale Beck, effectively plays to the playwright’s emphasis on emotional authenticity in all its messy contradictions, rather than analytical judgment.
For Lewis, meaningful relationships are fragile and born in desperation when her four troubled loners converge in a Japanese garden on the grounds of an unnamed foundation. That’s where volunteer tour guide Grace (Amy Sloan) receives a call confirming the positive result of her recent breast cancer biopsy.
Divorced and middle-age, Grace works as a travel writer who never actually visits the places she writes about, relying instead on “research and imagination” — the unlived possibilities.
Grace’s diagnosis is the focal point of her chance encounters with kindred misfits. Kat (Chelsea Kurtz) is a young runaway who’s flirted more than once with suicide. Cynical tattoo artist Tommy Z (Dieterich Gray) has given up on humanity after failing to save his brother from a fatal heroin addiction.
The outlier among these outliers is Haruki (Ryun Yu), a fabulously successful Japanese architect struggling to design a modest tea house commissioned for the garden. Haruki’s problem is that his work has grown sterile since the death of his wife, yet he clings to the insulated conviction that it’s “better to be alone than to have your heart ripped from your chest again.”
In rebuttal to that dead-end proposition, the play traces unexpected points of light during Grace’s health crisis. Haruki’s gentlemanly assistance deepens into a tentative romance, Kat comes out of hiding to help her and Grace provides Tommy with a way to re-engage with the world. Lewis charts their trajectories with compassion and respect for good intentions. The villain of the piece is Grace’s cancer, described with harrowing specificity.
The play’s frequent reliance on characters’ narration directly addressed to the audience proves a mixed bag. It’s an efficient technique to cover backstories and internal states, but it’s less artful than revelation through interaction. Some particularly effective dialogue is undercut with confessional asides that the conversation actually unfolded a different way — a lazy shortcut to expressing difficult truths.
The four actors consistently engage, hitting all the right emotional beats. In a standout performance, though, Yu adds marvelously ironic character-revealing inflections to even the most matter-of-fact lines.
Lewis’ play earns its optimism through hard-won human connection, as befits a title inspired by Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem”: “There is a crack, a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.”
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 27
Tickets: $20-$39 (all tickets $5 at special 2 p.m. performance this Saturday only)
Info: (626) 683-6801 or www.bostoncourtpasadena.org
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
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