Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Review: The Dangers of Electricity at The Luna Stage

The Luna Stage premiered last week an engrossing new play, The Dangers of Electricity, by local playwright Ben Clawson.  Title a clue to the subject matter? It is if you know that this attractive, intimate and comfortable theater in the round is now located in West Orange, New Jersey. This city just happens to have been the longtime research center and home to the world's most famous inventor, Thomas Alva Edison. Edison's gifts to the world included; the phonograph, the motion picture camera and the incandescent light bulb. History has crowned Edison "more responsible than any one else for creating the modern world.  No one did more to shape the physical/cultural makeup of  present day civilization.... Accordingly, he was the most influential figure of the millennium...." per The Heroes Of The Age: Electricity And Man

Thus, with this mammoth historic presence in the new home of the Luna Stage (they moved from Montclair in 2009) Artistic Director Jane Mandel commissioned this fascinating play about Thomas Edison. “I didn’t want the piece to be dry and solely scientific.  I wanted to explore the humanity, the frailty of these geniuses, to make the men, their accomplishments and their failures, accessible and engaging.  I knew Ben (Clawson) was the writer to bring levity and resonance to this story.”

Ben Clawson
has delivered a very entertaining and, forgive the word, illuminating play. His script focuses (forgive again) on the battle between Edison and the brilliant Yugoslav immigrant Nikola Tesla who championed alternating current (AC), over Edison's direct current (DC). Tesla won the battle, with the aid of Edison's hated rival George Westinghouse, but, in the end, (reread the quote above from the The Heroes Of The Age: Electricity And Man), Edison won the world wide fame.

 What makes this play particularly engrossing are the flawless performances of the all male cast and the beautiful animated direction by John Henry Davis. Leading the group is the astonishing actor James Glossman as Edison. He could not be more perfect in this very demanding role. Glossman is almost never out of view. How does anyone memorize that much dialogue?
His adversary,Tesla, is played by the excellent actor, and veteran of the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, Jon Barker. Barker's Tesla could not be more different than Thomas Edison; Edison, largely home schooled, far from a scholar with no time for social niceties, would wear the same clothes for days. Whereas Tesla was a more sophisticated European gentleman, fluent in many languages, art and literature lover, a true scientist who's electrical skills exceeded those of Edison and his vast staff. Baker uses a fine easy to understand accent.
His introduction to Edison is in the form of a letter of recommendation from Edison's confidante, Batchelor (Joseph Langham). Batchelor tells Edison that "He is one of two great men, the other is Tesla." Edison's mammoth ego prevents him from accepting how valuable this young electrical genius would be to his team even after Tesla demonstrates his skills. Tesla, finds George Westinghouse (Frank Anderson, he doubles nicely as Ben Franklin) ready, willing and financially able to back his pursuit of perfecting alternating current. Edison considers AC to be too dangerous compared to direct current. In 1889, he writes a paper "The Dangers of Electric Lighting" (thus, the title of the play) stressing the dangers of AC.

Rounding out the perfect cast is B. Brian Argotsinger who plays Brown, a little man in every sense of the word, on a crusade against the adoption of alternating current.

Director Davis' production staff includes; Andreea Mincic set designer, Paul Hudson lighting designer, Deborah Caney  costume designer, Randall Eng original music, Damien Hennessy sound design and Danielle Constance stage manager.

Bottom line, this is an entertaining play that painlessly slips in some fascinating American (and local) history, blessed with a superior cast of five gentlemen, with James Glossman in a fine star turn. We give it four stars.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio   October 22, 2011

This was our first visit to The Luna Stage. The facility is excellent. The theatre is intimate, (OK small), with about 80 seats, but comfortable with great sight lines. A variety of restaurants are nearby. Note below the package that includes dinner at the superior Manor Restaurant. Parking is free, with mostly street parking.
Luna Stages  world premiere of The Dangers of Electric Lighting, runs through November 13th.  Performance times are Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm.  Tickets are on sale now, $20-$30 per person, and can be purchased in person, on the phone at 973-395-5551, or on the Luna Stage website:

On Sunday, November 6th the 3pm performance will be accessible for people with hearing loss through the use of open-captioning.
On Thursday, October 27th  there is a talk-back session with Paul Israel, Managing Editor of the Thomas A. Edison Papers at Rutgers University, will discuss the development of the documentary legacy of America’s most prolific inventor and innovator. 

Special Dinner Package; Luna Stage is proud to be a new force in West Orange culture.  Understanding the importance of collaboration and community partnership in highlighting some of the wonderful places in West Orange, Luna Stage, the ManorRestaurant and the Thomas Edison National Park Museum have teamed up to offer a special West Orange Package: two tickets to the Edison museum (can be used anytime), a prix fixe dinner for two at The Manor and two tickets to The Dangers of Electric Lighting for any Saturday evening or Sunday matinee performance after opening – all for only $150.00.
For information on this production, the open-captioned performance, the special West Orange package, and all other events and programs at Luna Stage, visit the company website:  Luna Stage is located at 555 Valley Road, West Orange, NJ 07052. 973-395-5551. The theatre is handicapped accessible and assisted listening devices are available.

James Glossman as Edison and Jon Barker (Tesla)

 Photo:Luna Stage

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