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Glenda Frank


“The Lights Are On” by Owen Panettiere, directed by Sarah Norris
produced New Light Theatre Project and Embeléco Unlimited
at Theatre One on Theatre Row, 410 W 42nd Street, NYC
Oct. 7- Nov. 11. Tuesday - Saturday at 7, Saturday at 2, Sunday at 3 PM.
$35 – 62.50 at https://bfany.org/theatre-row/shows/the-lights-are-on.
Reviewed by Glenda Frank October 7, 2023

Jenny Bacon as Trish and Danielle Ferland as Liz.
Photo by Hunter Canning.

You never know what will terrify people. It’s easy to read the title of Owen Panettiere’s play “The Lights Are On,” without sensing the horror that Trish (Jenny Bacon) feels as she bangs on Liz’s (Danielle Ferland) door. She has just driven home and is sure there is danger waiting in her upstairs bedroom. After peering through the window at her frantic neighbor and former friend, Liz chain locks the door. Then she deliberates, changes her mind, and opens the door. And now we have two mysteries that slowly unfold, not only about these two former friends but about the outsized fears and choices we have to live with, and the impact on our children.

Jenny Bacon as Trish and Marquis Rodriguez as Nathan.
Photo by Hunter Canning.

Liz and Trist are traumatized women. After the total devastation of Hurricane Prudence, the genial Liz was sure the world is coming to an end. Yes, she listens to doomsayers on the radio, but only because they align with her experience. The house is her bunker. She never leaves and is stockpiling survival bins. It seems chaotic but she knows where everything can be found, including the first aid bin when Liz slices her hand.

Trist is less sympathetic. When Liz’s house was destroyed, she pretended not to be home. After Liz’s husband died, she offered no comfort, yet their sons were once inseparable. Nathan, Liz’s son, wonders if Trish ended the friendship because she suspected he was gay. She denies it, but she is alienated from her son, alienated from everyone. She is a woman who asks for help but offers nothing.

Photo by Hunter Canning.

The homemade pie is a delicious coup de  théâtre. Liz talks about her son’s pies with great anticipation even before he returns home from work. As it bakes, Nathan advises Trish to return home, confiding that the special pie he is baking tonight is poisoned. She thinks it’s a ploy and watches Liz and Nathan gobble it down, licking their plates like kids. Will Trish taste it?

And then there is the writing on the window that only Trish sees. When they open the curtains, the window is boarded up. The kitchen lights flicker and sometimes die. (Spectral lighting by Kelley Shih, set design by Brian Dudkiewicz.) The wraith at the door was a little over the top for me, but Oct. means Halloween.

I saw the production early. Neither Bacon nor Ferland were completely at ease with their roles although they had some credible exchanges as the plot unfolded. Ferland has a memorable voice. All her packing and unpacking look natural and she never missed a beat. The standout performance was by Marquis Rodriguez (Simba in “The Lion King”), the son whose lover had given him a choice, me or your dependent mother. His plight was very moving.

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