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  • Heather Osteraa

Motherhood and Scientific Discovery Interweave in Karen Zacarías’ “Legacy of Light”

“What is a woman’s legacy? Is it the discoveries she brings to the world through her career? Is it the children she brings into the world as a mother? Two female scientists in two different centuries struggle with these questions … and their clocks are ticking.” – Arena Stage’s Study Guide on Legacy of Light.

The Western Stage ventures forth into the imaginative universe of Karen Zacarías’ Legacy of Light, an intellectual joyride confronting a universal question. Two women, living hundreds of years apart, face the myriad of possibilities that birth can bring. For an 18th century mathematician, an unexpected pregnancy in middle-age means danger, not only to her groundbreaking research, but to her life. Likewise, for a 21st century physicist desperately trying to conceive a child, the prospect of new life threatens her notion of self and how much she is able to accomplish. Legacy of Light equates the laws of physical science with matters of the heart, and uses magical realism and dreamlike moments to draw together serendipitous stories in this contemporary comedy.

Legacy of Light performs in the Studio Theater October 27 – November 11, 2018. Hartnell College, Building K, 411 Central Ave. Salinas, CA.


The play unfolds simultaneously in 18th century France and contemporary America, where two women are pushing the boundaries of physics. One is Emilie du Châtelet, the French mathematician who discovered an important principle that discredited theories held by Isaac Newton and the philosopher Voltaire. In the U.S., a married but childless astrophysicist named Olivia has made the exciting discovery of a new planet. The two women are both grappling with issues of motherhood – Emilie is pregnant and worried she might die in childbirth, while Olivia has engaged a surrogate mother to carry the child she can’t conceive. As it turns out, neither baby is completely wanted – nor unwanted – and the mechanics of Legacy of Light allow us to watch as each woman comes to a deeper level of understanding about the role she serves in the cosmos. In a similar way, the orbits of their stories, which develop separately, begin to collide. With several performers playing more than one role, the twin scenarios unfurl in alternating and interwoven scenes. Faced with the wrenching decisions that working mothers have to make, Legacy of Light broaches the tantalizing question: Does the birth of a child ultimately mean as much to the world as the birth of an idea?


Karen Zacarías is one of the most produced playwrights in the nation. She is one of the inaugural Resident Playwrights at Arena Stage in Washington, DC, and is a core founder of the Latinx Theatre Commons. She is the founder of Young Playwrights’ Theater, an award winning theater company that teaches playwriting in local public schools in Washington, DC. Another of her works, Just Like Us, was produced by The Western Stage’s 2×4 BASH in summer of 2018.


The cast includes TWS veteran Katherine Adrian in the role of Emilie and Melissa Chin-Parker, TWS Artistic Program Director, as Olivia. Peninsula actor, Bri Slama, will play Millie. The men include TWS Production/Facilities Manager and resident director Jeff McGrath as Voltaire, TWS veteran Dennis Hungridge as Peter, and new-to-TWS Noah Lucé as Saint-Lambert. The action is accompanied by cellist, Nona Childress.

TWS welcomes guest director, Ellen Brooks, who was recently nominated for “Outstanding Performance in a Principle Role in a Play” by Theatre Bay Area. Scenic design is by David Parker; costume, hair, and makeup design by Maegan Roux; lighting design by John Englehorn; and sound design by Taylor Wilson.

Photos by Richard Green.

**The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Western Stage**

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