Ithaca has its own little Off Broadway theatre, the intimate space at the Kitchen Theatre, now in its 22nd season. The quality matches anything, anywhere: one certainly imagines they are in the theater district of New York when sitting in the ‘Kitchen.’
Currently on the boards is an encore production that is co-produced with the Civic Ensemble, a local company committed to engaging its community in new ways. It is always exciting when theater companies collaborate and this case is no exception. In fact, I left the theater breathless, wishing there were a sequel to look forward to – a word I actually loathe. Slashes of Light accomplishes more than one theme, pushes more than one button, and satisfies myriad opportunities of reflection.
One of the themes that comes up in the play dialogue between teacher and students is “contrasts”. There are multiple contrasts directly explored through the piece – from the mundane black/white issues on the surface of the mind of a young student and black panther recruit in the early 60s to contrasts of experience, artistic expression, coping methods, parenting, addressing scandal vs attempting to understand motivation behind scandal, and various kinds of trauma. Contrasts between comfort and environment, understanding and establishment of boundaries, and individual need and identity. The list goes on but it does not overwhelm.
The characters stand alone in strength and spirit, each hopelessly intertwined with the others but emphatically struggling for independence and self-knowledge. The young female student comes of age through her relationships with a best friend, a teacher and a love interest; each of these more complicated, – yes, even damaged – than her and each needing to absorb a piece of her innocence. The teacher with a past that is not so much a shock as a continuing cause of suffering, fueling an inner struggle of her own that her charges could not begin to comprehend, and the unusual bonds she forges with her students. Two male students, of the same race but not of the same temperament, experience, nor even condition, again such contrasts, never ending parade of contrasts. The characters’ approach and reactions to these contrasts – to life as they discover it – are the stuff that moves one to tears.
The actors are stellar, better than that, actually. The depth of emotion reached within this cast is astounding and worth witnessing. They are Sarah Chalmers, Robert McKay, Judi Jackson, Jelani Pitcher, and Ryan Travis, representing a piece of ensemble work that will haunt me. Playwright Judy Tate and Director Melissa Maxwell deserve awards for their work. This is a way to end the current season but guess what! It’s not over until June 29th. I recommend making it a priority for anyone in town this month.
The Kitchen is located at 417 W. Martin Luther King, Jr. Street in Ithaca
(607) 273-4497 or www.kitchentheatre.org.