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Until Dark

A play that reflects on the nature of consent within the nuances of sisterhood while testing its ties and boundaries.

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Luisa Galatti, Maria Müller and Giorgia Valenti in a scene from Federica Borlenghi’s “Until Dark” at Out of the Box Theatrics (Photo credit: Giorgia Valenti)

[avatar user=”Scotty Bennett” size=”96″ align=”left”] Scotty Bennett, Critic[/avatar]

There are times when an impulsive desire to help clouds the perception of the reality of the situation and creates complications in what initially seemed to be clear. Impulsiveness is often the source of misunderstanding and misinterpretation that leads to, at best, a grey space and, at worst, a black hole.

Until Dark, written and directed by Federica Borlenghi, explores the meaning of consent within the context of miscommunications fueled by alcohol and drugs and deep emotional dysfunction. When one sister is accused of a serious crime, her younger criminal attorney sister jumps in to help and is joined by the youngest sister in an unexpected reunion.

The play is set in the Denver apartment of Cass, convincingly played by Maria Müller, the oldest of three sisters. She is a yoga instructor who has been accused of felony sex abuse by one of her clients, involving alcohol, drugs, and a video recording, details that are not revealed until halfway through the play.

Jackie, the middle sister, effectively inhabited by Giorgia Valenti, is a criminal defense attorney living in New Jersey with her husband and with her mother recently added to the household. Valenti’s portrayal makes Jackie seem older than Cass. It is not a critical distinction in the story arc, but interestingly, Borlenghi’s direction didn’t pick up on that detail.

Luisa Galatti and Maria Müller in a scene from Federica Borlenghi’s “Until Dark” at Out of the Box Theatrics (Photo credit: Giorgia Valenti)

Lisa, the youngest of the trio, played by Luisa Galatti, is a professional chef who recently moved to Texas with her girlfriend after living near her mother in New Jersey. She is intended to be a buffer between her two older sisters. Her performance doesn’t entirely fit with the character she is portraying, at times acting more like a 14-year-old adolescent than a grown woman and professional chef. While the dialogue is consistent with a young, mature woman, the action is often not in keeping with that dialogue.

The first interaction between Cass and Jackie sets the tone for what is to follow, with each sister identifying who they are in terms of their personalities and relationships. Cass appears casual, although tense, given the situation. In this and other scenes, even her clothing reflects an air of casualness that belies the emotional turmoil at her core. She holds her thoughts and feelings tightly, revealing little, even in the face of the legal calamity she faces.

Jackie presents a strong contrast to Cass. She is no-nonsense, intense, and direct, consistent with her position as a criminal lawyer dealing with a client. Her clothes are conservative and project an image of corporate stability. Her opening dialogue with her sister, whom she has not seen in two years, lacks warmth, with questions on the arrangements for eating and sleeping being dispensed almost dismissively. The sense that these sisters are not on the best terms is unmistakable as the scene plays out.

CASS:  How are you?

JACKIE: Sorry. Uh – where should I leave my stuff?

And:

JACKIE: How long have you lived here again?

CASS: In here? I’ve been renting it for… six years.

JACKIE: Oh wow!

Maria Müller and Luisa Galatti in a scene from Federica Borlenghi’s “Until Dark” at Out of the Box Theatrics (Photo credit: Giorgia Valenti)

When Lisa joined the mix, the family dynamics became more visible. Lisa, at 27, is eight years younger than Cass and five years younger than Jackie. Neither of her sisters considers her mature enough to handle what is happening. She was not supposed to know about Cass’s legal problem, but her presence introduces a potential calming element to the tension between Cass and Jackie.

The interactions between the sisters move from intense emotional outbursts to calmer sisterly interactions, never revealing any specific indication of emotional dysfunction. The legal situation for Cass appears to be the framework on which the relationship and personalities of the sisters are being hung. There are hints as to what events shaped the individual personalities of the sisters and their connections with each other.

The balance is off between the two storylines. If the most crucial dramatic element of the story is the legal issue surrounding consent, the dynamics of the sisters’ current and historical relationship do not satisfactorily clarify that issue. If the story’s primary focus is the nature of the relationship between the sisters, the legal issue overshadows the intricacies and nuances of their relationship.

The two main storylines of the play contain strong dramatic elements that would stand well by themselves—the final two scenes attempt to bring closure to the dramatic arcs but miss the mark. They seem to operate as endings to the two stories. While the show is a solid attempt at dramatizing the issue of consent when it comes to sexual relationships, it doesn’t quite squarely hit the mark.

Andrés López-Alicea’s set and prop design works well given the limitations of the theater’s open performance space. An essential element in supporting the set design is the lighting design. In this case, Adrian Yuen’s is inconsistent, with the actors’ faces sometimes obscured by shadows or unevenly lit areas of the stage. Stephanie L. Carlin’s sound design worked for the most part, with a few miscues.

Until Dark (through March 3, 2024)

Et Alia Theater in partnership with Mo Shah and Kavita Shah in association with Covi Loveridge Brannan

Out of the Box Theatrics, 154 Christopher Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/until-dark-tickets-787163937527?aff=oddtdtcreator

Running time: 75 minutes without an intermission

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About Scotty Bennett (80 Articles)
Scotty Bennett is a retired businessman who has worn many hats in his life, the latest of which is theater critic. For the last twelve years he has been a theater critic and is currently the treasurer of the American Theatre Critics Association and a member of the International Association of Theatre Critics. He has been in and around the entertainment business for most of his life. He has been an actor, director, and stage hand. He has done lighting, sound design, and set building. He was a radio disk jockey and, while in college ran a television studio and he even knows how to run a 35mm arc lamp projector.

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