Shadows & Light, Untold Stories, Time to Hear…

by Jamie Bullins

Lied Center Johnny Carson Theatre, Friday, July 24, 2020, 7:30 pm. 

Angels Theatre Company did their absolute best making me comfortable in the theatre again, in the, what would you call it, unusual (maybe that’s best) times in which we find ourselves. Maybe it’s appropriate that the world is off its axis, that’s what these stories are about, getting knocked off course.  I must say that I’ve never had my temperature taken at the door, sat 6 feet away from the nearest patron, and watched the actors work while they were wearing masks as well. It’s a little daunting when you think about how blasé we have become with the normal that may never be quite the same again. But, again, out of our comfort zone is where these stories will (and should) move you. 

In partnership with Families Inspiring Families, Angels Theatre Company has gathered numerous personal narratives (or stories) and staged them, using actors, but the words are from the actual folks who experienced these shadows & light. In the program there’s a quote, “no one ever wanted to hear my story before…”. It’s fortunate that Families Inspiring Families and Angels Theatre Company did. These are stories about life and its struggles, pain, decisions and their consequences (good, bad, heavy as hell), love, and hope. You listen and the old adage, “there but for the grace of God go I” is almost palpable. If you grew up in a family, traditional or not, you can relate, so, that’s all of us. These stories are about broken homes, foster homes, single parents, addiction, recovery, custody battles, and all the terrible things surrounding all those tough and frightening things. They are difficult to listen to and the audience audibly gasped when one of the characters explained that they had called child services on herself when she knew she couldn’t be trusted to provide a safe and healthy environment for her own children. Tough, but necessary to hear, and there’s hope (and light) at the end. The stories are about moving forward, keeping on, even through the aforementioned dark shadows. 

The ensemble: Deidre Barney, Carrie Bartholomew, Shelbi Bretz, Kathy Disney, Andrea Gassman, Lauren George, Kristine Kapustka, Amy Koepke, Wendy Salinas, and Jacoby Vann do an excellent job at working as a company, almost one voice at times. They are asked to incorporate movement and sometimes dance into the piece (movement director Daniel Kubert), which you could assume may be a bit awkward, but they make it flow in what seems to be a natural progression of the work. And, with added songs (original music by Sarothra, music director Kellyn Wooten, with musicians Vince Learned and Derek Dibbern), they sing as well. No small undertaking; convincing storytelling, movement, music, all clear for the audience, through a mask. All of this is modestly staged by director Judy Hart and holds together very well without losing the focus on the stories, which is why everyone is in this room. There’s a preshow announcement about a couple of performers, who were very recently added to the ensemble, who would be referring to note cards for their lines. I worried initially that it might be a distraction. Was it? No. They handled it like pros, and it was barely noticeable. Kudos to all. 

Go tonight or tomorrow if you can. These types of performances, getting people’s stories out there, are valuable and can serve to remind us of how wildly varied are the roads we’re walking. They can shake you up. Let them. 

If you go: You can catch Shadows & Light Saturday, July 25 with a 7:30 pm curtain time and Sunday, July 26  at 2:00 pm. Shows are in the Johnny Carson Theater of the Lied Center for Performing Arts, located at 11th and Q Streets in Lincoln. Reservations are encouraged and can be made online.  

Jamie Bullins is a member of the faculty in the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film at UNL, since the fall of 2017. He is an Educator, Scenographer, and sometimes Director and Playwright and has been at it for about 25 years now. 

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