It makes perfect sense that a theater company whose current renovations will include a new space to be christened “the Cradle” would commission a play about motherhood in all its forms. Karen Zacarias’s “Legacy of Light,” at Arena Stage in Crystal City now through June 14, is a wide embrace of these themes – the purely physical act, the creative endeavor, even the scientific genesis. Maybe too wide an embrace. Its first act had me a bit impatient. But if you can get through the beginning exposition and make it to the second act, you’re rewarded with some truly funny and poignant moments that bring these themes to life.
The production weaves together two sets of couples – in the past, scientist Emilie de Chatelet works furiously on her thesis while balancing a young lover, a longtime companion (who just happens to be Voltaire), a military husband, and a fiesty daughter who shows more interest in fashion than learning. In the present, scientist Olivia struggles to come to terms with balancing the impending birth of her child by a surrogate mother while investigating the more exciting birth of a star in a distant galaxy.
You could say these two have a lot on their plates.
The first act plays with mutable gender roles – both the young male lover in the past and the modern husband register as rather feminine (not to mention, a tad annoying), while the women read masculine at least in terms of their assertiveness and consuming drive. It’s a conceit that gets turned on its head in the second act, when timelines intersect and traditional roles become harder to ignore.