A letter from Cheryl Katz, Associate Artistic Director/Director of New Play Development at Luna Stage.

Two years ago, we commissioned Ben Clawson to write a play about Thomas Edison. Our company had just relocated to a new space in West Orange and we were thinking about ways to embrace and engage our new community.  We thought a play about the town’s most famous denizen would allow us to learn more about the heritage of our new neighborhood and provide opportunities to partner with local organizations.  Having enjoyed a long relationship with Ben, we knew his approach to the man would not be your run of the mill idolatry and homage. We knew he would dig deeper into what makes a man like Edison tick.  What we had no way of knowing was that our world premiere of this play would coincide with the death of another great inventor.

Edison’s legacy is mammoth.  At any moment in history, an examination of his work and psyche would prove relevant and provocative.  But somehow, the death of someone who has lived among us makes everything more immediate and personally, leads me toward introspection.

Thomas Edison (and I imagine Steve Jobs and Nikola Tesla as well), was clairvoyant. He knew what the public needed and wanted before the public knew themselves. He had an unshakable confidence in the necessity and definitiveness of his inventions. In lesser men, these traits might lead one to simply be labeled arrogant, but, in a genius such as Edison, they are inspiring.

As many of you know, two years ago, Luna Stage lost our Montclair space in the midst of the worst financial meltdown in recent history. We saw countless theatre companies close their doors permanently. We could easily have chosen to do the same, but we chose to persevere. Because, at the end of the day, I guess theatre artists share some characteristics with great inventors.  We believe we know what the public really wants and even though everyone says that people are spending all of their time tuned in to reality TV and Facebook, we cling to our conviction that the human soul thrives on genuine contact. And we are utterly convinced of the power and electricity of live theatre.

So, here we are– opening our second season in our new home with the world premiere of this wonderful new play. We hope that through The Dangers of Electric Lighting, you can gain access to these extraordinary men in a way that would prove difficult in a biography or another medium, and that in turn, you will discover something about yourself. Because that is our work, our passion: to illuminate the world around us and to foster a common understanding and appreciation for all that it is to be human.

© Cheryl Katz (14 November 2011)

The Dangers of Electric Lighting by Ben Clawson received its premiere at Luna Stage, Oct-Nov. 2011. Directed by John Henry Davis, sets by Andrea Mincic, lights by Paul Hudson, costumes by Deborah Caney, production manager Liz Cesario, stage manager Danielle Constance. Jane Mandel, Artistic Director; Mona Hennessy, Managing Director. 555 Valley Road, West Orange, NJ. (973)-395-5551.

WITH: Frank Anderson, B. Brian Argotsinger, Jon Barker, James Glossman, Joseph Langham.

For further reading, see New York Times review.

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