Do strangers share memories? She Turned on the Light, written and directed by Wendy Woodson, performed by Marina Libel, confronts the question through two perspectives: when you are a stranger in a strange land and when your remembrances seem to be carried across generations. The piece is a tour-de-force monologue with physical theater. It explores how lines of fantasy, memory and reality can loop and merge between women separated by age and history.
The play is a dialogue between Noon, an "Old World" refugee and Lila, a young contemporary American woman who is drawn close to Noon, but fearfully. In a series of overlapping episodes speaking in multiple voices to each other and in direct interaction with the audience, the two women discover that their lives have been running on parallel tracks with unexpected intersections across time and space, revealing shared memories of loss and love.
No issue is too small to unite the two women, or to divide them. The light in Noon's room (reflected in the title) is turned on and off to excite memories, or to soften them as memories change. At times, they seem to be simply contemporaries; at other times, Lila burrows aggressively into the older woman's past, to ferret out its secrets. While being alternately frustrated and angered by Lila's demands, Noon is also protective of her. Through a delicate and rapid-fire interplay between word, gesture and light, we accumulate bits and pieces of stories and memories that we can follow. But just when we think we are clearly located, a sudden shift or an unexpected interruption takes us on another path. What we think we know in one moment disappears to reveal another layer of possibility. Is Noon dead or alive? Are Noon and Lila the same person or are they passing through one another in some mystical transformation? Who is Lucas, the enigmatic lover that Noon lost when she had to escape Europe and Lila meets on a train? These questions bring us to surprising revelations that speak to multiple experiences of displacement and desires for reconciliation.
A carefully choreographed interplay between word and gesture is a specialty of Wendy Woodson's work, making it firmly interdisciplinary. From her experiences living in Brazil, Portugal and many other countries in her youth, Woodson has discovered inspirations, challenges and questions that relate to how and why she makes performance. She notes that when you move to a new country, gestural language becomes crucially important and inner lives are revealed through physical action.
In writing She Turned on the Light, Woodson drew on many stories of immigrants and refugees that she has been collecting from different continents to create one composite narrative. The piece also draws freely on experiences from Marina Libel's family, which had to leave Poland for Brazil during the World War II, and on Libel's own experience of moving from Brazil to the United States at a young age.
The work is part of the "Cross Continental" series of Present Company, Inc., which has a national reputation for innovative and exciting interdisciplinary performances of outstanding quality. It is part of Woodson's six year-old project, "Cross Continental," an ongoing series of interrelated dance, theater and video pieces that deal with exile, memory and reconciliation.