It was a Thursday night. The campus was turning in. In Nicholson Commons, students were returning from the cafeteria, heading to the library, the ARC or their dorms. Amid the hustle and bustle was Salomon Theatre’s third showing of “Dark Matter” a play about pain, loss and the human condition.
“Dark Matter” was written by Kristin Anna Froberg, a 2004 PLNU alumna. This is Froberg’s third play debuting at PLNU, other ones being “Relative Terms” in 2004 and “Make Believe” in 2007. The play, directed by Paul Bassett, was cold, gut-wrenching and disturbing, yet deeply profound.
In his Director’s Note located in the bulletin, Bassett warns the audience of the nature of the play. “Dark Matter may delight some and offend others,” he writes. “The characters may entertain us and they may disgust us. But, in all these responses (and others), we have the opportunity to consider our place in the human community.”
Indeed, “Dark Matter” does just that. Set in three different, alternating time periods, the play explores the power of intergenerational influence with the backdrop of space exploration, as it depicts the lives of individuals who have inherited in one way or another the brokenness, personified in disease or divorce, from their parents and those around them. It displays the themes of death, loss and the challenge of overcoming the cycle of destruction often present in families. The major question the play seems to ask is “Are you afraid?” or more importantly “Is it ok to be afraid, afraid to die?”
Most of the performances were skillful, engaging and effective in leading the audience to care about the characters. Kayla Morales, Samantha Peterson, Madisen Steele, and Jack French who played Maggie, Andromache, Irena, and Chris were some of the standouts of the night for their consistent and compelling portrayals. French, however, stood out the most giving the most believable of the performances, full of emotion and passion.
The set was exquisitely constructed and aided greatly in engaging the audience with the story. The stage floor was black as were the cabinets on the right and left side adding to the melancholy mood of the play. The most compelling part of the set was the moon (a circle carved onto a wooden wall) and the effect of stars above it. The moon was often rotated to depict the inside of a spaceship, also very believable and beautifully constructed. The lighting was appropriate and enhanced the telling of the story. The makeup applied to Samantha Watkins, who played La Catrina Calvera, was an effective representation of death, conveying fear and disturbance.
Although themes in the play were strong and compelling, its slow pace and melancholy nature often made it difficult to stay engaged. The transitions between time periods were not always clear, leading to some confusion. The relationship between the human condition and the space-related plot felt confusing and unnecessary albeit effective enough to get the message across.
Despite these small shortcomings, “Dark Matter” proved to be a deeply profound and fascinating play. With its exploration of disease, death and familial brokenness, “Dark Matter” raised some important questions about the human condition. In a world of superficiality, it is refreshing to watch a production that delves into deeper matters and helps viewers think more actively about their role in the cycle of life.