Let There Be Light…!
nytheatre.com review by Kyle Ancowitz
August 15, 2004
I won’t be able to say enough good things about the grueling and luminous Let There Be Light..!, a presentation of the WNEP Theater of Chicago. The play is an adaptation by director Jen Ellison and Dave Stinson of a documentary about WWII vets in psychiatric care after the Allied victory in Europe. The original Let There Be Light..! was the last film director John Huston made while assigned to the Army Signal Corps. The film was seized and suppressed by the Army due to its perceived anti-war sentiments; it wasn’t released until 1981, thirty-five years later. The stage adaptation functions both as a surly rejoinder to anyone’s case for war as well as an advertisement for old-time psychoanalysis. This would be worth your time in and of itself, but truly superlative performances from the cast elevate Let There Be Light..! well above anything I expected to see in FringeNYC.
Peter De Giglio and James Yeater play soldiers afflicted with a chronic stammer and hysterical amnesia, respectively; to say more would spoil their surprises. Chad Reinhart delivers an especially athletic performance as Corp. Joe Hardy, who is confined to a wheelchair after his legs unexpectedly stop working. The scene where he is cured with truth serum is terrifically funny. Peter James Zielinski is heartbreakingly acute as PFC Jeremy Friend, whose specific ailment is never revealed. When seen in flashbacks, Friend is so lovable that you could nearly walk onstage and hug him. To witness his suffering is devastating. Finally, Joe Janes adds a peculiar menace and a remarkable sense of the era as The Doctor, who administers his cures with paternal surety from the shadows far upstage.
I would like to single out the sound design by Steve Zimmers and Tina Louise Mead for special applause. The haunted, detached voices and arresting battleground sounds shook me out of my seat and horrified me anew, almost as if I’d never been desensitized by TV violence. In fact, Let There Be Light..! is as close to battle as I’d wish for anyone to come. If you happen to have forgotten through some chance, neglect, or seduction what is fearful and horrible about war, see this play now to remember.