When a play is more of a story

Hosted by

“How the light gets in” Photo credit: Craig Schwartz. Photo courtesy of Boston Court.

What’s the difference between a dramatic story and a play?

That’s the question that nervously filled my mind with the first words of “How the light gets in” at Boston Court.

“Once upon a time” are the first words spoken. That familiar incantation that almost signals “sit back and relax” - it’s story time.

Our story is centered in a Japanese garden. Grace is a sweet docent who has a way with words. She’s got a kind but lonely heart. Haruki is a famous Japanese architect. He’s accepted a commission to build a modest tea house in the garden. It’s a job that should be simple for such a notable architect but he’s struggling with it. He’s aspiring to improve upon nature and that’s not working out so well - at least in his mind. He’s got a lonely heart too but given his Japanese reserve, it will take him some time to recognize this.

Our other two characters, who do double time as narrators, are a 15 year-old runaway and a grizzled tattoo artist. These two are connected to our story but oddly outside of it. Kat, the runaway, has been living under a tree in the Japanese garden. That’s where she meets Grace. We’ll learn how Kat met the tattoo artist but that will take some time.

Our fifth character isn’t really a character at all but a diagnosis: cancer.

It’s safe to say that “How the light gets in” is a cancer play. Cancer is the idea that gives the story weight and if it’s something that’s part of your story, it might be what pulls you in.

The challenge with “How the light gets in” as a play is that our characters are oddly passive. There are a lot of things happening to them but they are almost related after the fact - like in a story: this happened then that happened, etc. The trouble is that passivity reaches out to us in the audience.

We care about characters in a drama because they’re trying to do something. That’s what pulls us in. Here, you’ll care if this story speaks to you. If breast cancer is important to you - this story will be.

It’s easy to see why Boston Court specifically chose this story. It has the feel of a Boston Court play. It’s poetic, a little dreamy. There’s a familiar tone and almost common language to the plays they choose. At their best they’re plays where the dramatic poetry is as important as the dramatic action. At their worst, they’re dramatic stories rather than riveting plays.

“How the light gets in” is a play that fits within the Boston Court aesthetic but it’s not a play that’s going to win you over. If you love what they do, go. If cancer is a story that’s part of your life - this may resonate with you … but don’t expect too much drama.

“How the light gets in” plays at Boston Court in Pasadena through October 27th.

For info on the show and to subscribe to the weekly KCRW theatre newsletter, with all my picks for what to see in LA this fall. Check out: kcrw.com/theatre.