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The Light

Take the sense of history and faith out of the original Christmas story and you are left with an incredibly dramatic and difficult situation, in other words…a great opportunity for a gripping tale. The City Playhouse production “The Light” presented at the Al Green Theater performed this story. For those who remove the spiritual facet of this situation it becomes a story of society and how outcast are treated. To those who subscribe to the religious beliefs it contains, the play gives a new emotional perspective to an already familiar part of their core events. Regardless of the ideals you hold (or do not) “The Light” offers this famous story in a way that you have never seen before. The introduction of new characters (not found in scripture) is highlighted by the incredible performance of Canada’s Ava Cummings. The role of mother-in-law carries its own preconceived characteristics; Cummings presents the role in one of the most famous and precarious of situations in history. Appearing as Shawran, Ava quickly became an audience favorite delivering charismatic and delightful performances in this very unique presentation.

The unique theme of “The Light” is one that has been hinted at many times but perhaps never fully developed until this production. Mary is engaged to Joseph, who is a little awkward, and his mother Shawran (portrayed by Cummings) could not be more pleased about the union. Shawran is a loud and controlling person who feels that her son’s marriage to Mary will elevate her own status in the community. When Shawran eavesdrops on a conversation between Joseph and Mary in which he accuses Mary of infidelity, it plants the seed which later results in the mother-in-law angering the whole town towards the expectant mother. Shawran is outlandish, brash, loud and yet all of this comes from a place of protection for her son. When Joseph and his father (Shawran’s husband) confront her about her actions, she backs down. The story of strife between a number of family members at a time which should be joyous is a reminder of the difficulty this situation must have truly been. While many stories of the birth of Jesus focus on the joyous aspect, “The Light” presents a very realistic idea of what Mary would have gone through. The story of a young girl carrying a baby who she claimed to be the Messiah would have been met with great disdain. Exploring the very real feelings that surrounded this occurence is something not done and that is what makes this show unique.

Ava considers Shawran to be one of her most interesting and enjoyable characters to inhabit. This outwardly highly positive and friendly actress found it a wonderful exercise to play such a loud and obnoxious character. Cummings doesn’t see Shawran as a negative or “bad” character, quite to the contrary in fact. It’s Shawran’s loyalty and love for her son that leads her to act in such a harsh way to Mary. When Mary's unborn child threatens her family status in society, she does everything in her power to protect her family. Not only does Shawran fight to protect her reputation but she also fights to protect her son from who she perceives to be a viper in their midst. Looking to pawn off her illegitimate child on her innocent son. While hindsight may look unfavorably on Shawran’s handling of the situation, Ava regards her motivation as emanating from a mother’s love. This character gives her the opportunity to do one of the most enjoyable things for an actor…to exhibit a great deal of character development during the evolution of the story. Ava relates, “I enjoy the villain like characters more than the positive ones. The villain like characters are more complex and allows more levels to dive into. On the surface it may seem that the villain is negative but there are usually reasons behind this negativity. It allows for much discovery when it comes to understanding the character. Many times there is deep hurt associated with the negative behaviors. Shawran has been by far my favorite character. She has a way of getting into your soul. By the end you find yourself reluctantly rooting for her. In a Christmas play, the star characters are typically Mary and Joseph; however, in this play Shawran takes it, hands down. I think everyone has a Shawran in their life. When you see her acting out, all you can do is laugh. The interesting part of this character is that underneath all the outlandish behavior is someone desperate to protect her son. She truly wants the best for him but allows everyone else's opinion to affect her. It was a joy to play a character with so many layers.”

Upon hearing the subjects discussed in the storyline, one might think the production would be tense and stressful. The truth is, there is a wide gamut of emotional twists and turns in the plot. Strife is balanced with tenderness, shouting offset with moments of ridiculousness and levity. Cummings recalls being impressed at the peaks and valleys she saw when first reading the script and notes that she found Shawran endearing and amusing even on paper. She was instinctively drawn to Shawran and the extreme journey of her story arc. Audience reactions at the performance mirrored this as Ava’s portrayal of the character became an obvious favorite eschewing repeatedly positive reactions. The actress praises these audience members for following her on the journey of Shawran and notes that it’s the highly perceptive individuals who were astute in their recognition of Shawran’s potential.

The Lighthouse Production of “The Light” resulted in a record breaking attendance of 1,500 for the performances. Some common responses were, “a heart-warming message, a weary heart”, “we love to see this Christmas story and never tire of it” and “the best Christmas show we have ever seen.” Cummings in particular received great accolades. She is yet another example that truly magnificent actors are the ones who you can never really stereotype. The affable and warm actress may be much more easy to contend with than the character of Shawran but what these two women, one real and one fictional, have created together has excited audiences bringing them back again and again to see this charismatic performance in “The Light.”

The Light Reviewed by JaamZIN on 4:15:00 AM Rating: 5
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