“Energy Mass Light,” by Katherine Varga ‘T5, took a long road to get on stage. The play, which closed this past Saturday, was originally selected to be a staged reading as part of Geva Theatre’s Regional Writers Showcase last spring. Varga, who will graduate this spring, has now collaborated with UR theatre group The Opposite of People to fully realize the show.
Sophomore Michelle Fonda and senior Steven Winkelman play twins and college students A.J. and Elliot, living together as total opposites. A.J.’s the whip-smart physics student— unsentimental, exactingly realistic and sharply funny. Elliot is a Shakespeare lover whose fluffy poetry and propensity towards brief infatuations is a constant thorn in A.J.’s side. Though the two agree on little, their bond is strong. One night, during a rousing game of Trouble, there’s a power outage, and the next thing they know, a girl dressed a century out of fashion is sitting in their living room.
What follows is an exploration of what it means to move through time, what’s worth holding on to and what it means to love. The girl turns out to be Lillian White (sophomore Meredith Watson), a girl miraculously transported from 1915 into the present. A.J. is skeptical at first, but Lillian’s thirst for knowledge and earnestness starts to chip away at her hard exterior, until we’re finally given a chance to meet A.J. at her most vulnerable.
“While many will see the central love story as being between Lillian and AJ, I believe (after being convinced by Katherine) that the actual love story is one of love within family, between the twins,” director and junior Jordan Polcyn-Evans said. “If applied to the other ideas of the show, it can be thought of as a love story between not only the twins, but also the types of thought that they represent: scientific and humanistic, logical and romantic, etc.”
Fonda as A.J. is excellent. She’s pitch perfect when it comes to her biting sarcasm (“Lesbians are a dime a dozen in the English department”), and her ability to be the grown-up in her home is warmly believable. Fonda has a talent for snarling out her lines when she needs to, but she’s at her best when Elliot’s annoying her. Though he spends most of the first act as not much more than punch-line, his development in the second act brings his high-pitched blathering to a much more sympathetic place. His maturation coincides with some of the more important events of the second act. Watson is delightful as Lillian–bubbly but not vapid, inquisitive but not annoying. Her brief dalliance with A.J. is as sweet as it is brief, but watching it unfold is wonderful to watch. Jake Lowenherz portrays A.J.’s classmate, and he dutifully plays dumb as to Lillian’s temporal origin. Meanwhile, the set design perfectly displays the off-campus living decor (neatly arranged bottles, witty posters), and the costuming rightly characterizes its wearers.
Though “Energy Mass Light” is an odd show, it’s still grounded in traditional theatrical conventions, which makes it far more palatable than it sounds. Polcyn-Evans’ direction gives the show its shape, while Varga’s writing holds the audience’s attention. It’s funny, it’s tight and it’s poignant, and Varga has crafted a low-stakes show that is—dare I say it—a crowd-pleaser.
Bernstein is a member of the class of 2018.