The Japanese art of “kintsugi” is the process of shoring up cracks or faults in pottery by brushing lacquer dusted with gold or silver into the damage. As a result, the damage is no longer something to hide; it’s simply another part of the beautiful whole.
In How the Light Gets In, by E.M. Lewis, the concept of understanding and accepting one’s faults is a central theme. The title comes from Leonard Cohen’s 1992 song “Anthem,” from the line “there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
That sentiment — that faults and flaws should be celebrated — is part of what makes life worthwhile, according to Lewis.
“The world would be so boring if we were all the same,” Lewis said. “Our differences and flaws are part of what makes it exciting to meet each other and to live our lives in the first place.”
How the Light Gets In is the first play in Chautauqua Theater Company’s 2019 New Play Workshop series, which is sponsored in part by the Roe Green Foundation. It runs at 4 p.m. today and 2:15 p.m. Saturday in Bratton Theater.
The show follows four distinct characters from different walks of life as they encounter one another in a Japanese garden. Although each character is working through their own trauma, they find unexpected solace through one another.
Lewis said the show comes from a deeply personal place, and that it takes audience members on an emotional ride. Despite that, she said her favorite thing about How the Light Gets In is its lighter side.
“I love that it’s a love story,” Lewis said. “I’ve written a lot of plays about difficult topics and darker topics, and I love that; but oddly enough, this play wanted to have a lot of light in it from the beginning. It was fun to write something that had romance and had comedy, even though it also had some of the more challenging things, too.”
Director Emilie Beck said she loves the show’s hope and warmth. According to Beck, it can be easy to fall into a cynical and jaded mindset when writing a modern play, and she’s thrilled to see the optimism and earnestness present in Lewis’ writing.
“(Lewis) is reaching into deep and necessary subjects, but she does it with such a light touch,” Beck said. “It allows people to go to places in their hearts that (they’re) often closed to. She’s a very sincere and earnest writer. This play is funny, and it is a delicious love story, but it’s also getting to those places by just opening up our hearts.”
Beck is quick, however, to assure audience members that the lighter and genuine nature of this show doesn’t mean it isn’t able to delve into meaningful subjects.
“It is a beautiful play, and it can be deceptively simple,” Beck said. “But when you start to dig into it and start to realize the depth of emotion and the depth of the relationships between these characters, you’re struck by how truly complex this show is.”
As a part of the NPW series, How the Light Gets In is still in a state of evolution and adaptation. By staging it at Chautauqua, Beck and Lewis will be able to see what areas of the show work best and which parts could use some tweaking.
After this summer, the show will have its world premiere on Sept. 19 at Boston Court in Pasadena, California. Lewis said that having the chance to refine the show here at Chautauqua before it premieres in the fall is exciting.