Vet TV/legit scripter Jim Geoghan’s lightweight Hell’s Kitchen fable has proved popular holiday fare on stages nationwide since its 1993 premiere at San Diego’s Old Globe Theater. This Vox Humana presentation of “Light Sensitive” does not provide new insights into the predictable romantic evolution of two life-damaged souls; but helmer Will Pellegrini elicits poignant perfs from his three-character ensemble. Particularly rewarding are the emotionally charged tangible connections achieved between Steve Oreste’s embittered blinded cabbie Tom and Naomi Delucco’s plain-Jane clinic volunteer Edna.
The action takes place during the eight days between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, set entirely in Tom’s miniscule, rundown Manhattan abode (impressively detailed by Pellegrini). Once proudly dubbed “the most dangerous white cab driver in New York City” by his wisecracking bartender pal Lou (Christopher Mur), Tom now wallows in his own besotted misery, having become blinded in an inane, alcohol-induced freak accident eight years earlier. Lou was partially responsible for the accident, so he has become Tom’s sole connection to the outside world.
Mur’s Lou and Oreste’s Tom exude the irreverent camaraderie of two blue-collar Gothamites who have bonded over countless gallons of booze and the recognition that they are both “mean-street” losers with no prospects in life. Much of the humor of the first act comes from the zany interplay of two carefree drunks who have no concern or responsibility for what they say or do.
Geoghan’s insertion of Lou’s sudden upward-mobility desire to hook up with a lawyer lady he met at “The New School” and move to Vermont this very day is creaky plot evolution, but it does serve to set up the introduction of emotionally repressed, desperately lonely home-visit volunteer Edna. The fact that Lou, out of guilt, has recruited Edna from “the blind place,” so enrages Tom, it guarantees that Edna and Tom will began their journey together from beneath Ground Zero.
DeLucco has not quite settled into the character of Edna, who needs to be both reticent and pugnacious as she stalwartly thwarts all of Tom’s early attempts to get rid of her. Delucco’s efforts to convey Edna’s tit-for-tat responses to Tom’s vulgarities are unconvincing. What does work is DeLucco’s understanding of Edna’s unwavering need to break though Tom’s defenses and truly connect with another human being.
The scripter’s use of unlikely plot points carries through to the second-act revelation that Tom is a lifelong lover of Shakespeare and the Romance poets of the 19th century. Oreste carries off with aplomb Tom’s endearing, Lower East Side rendering of a Wordsworth sonnet. Oreste also instills veracity into Tom’s evolution from hard-bitten souse to a giddy lover of life who is so ready to leap into the arms of Edna.
The New Year’s Eve return of Lou into the lives of Tom and Edna sets up the comedic highlight of the play: Lou’s hilarious recounting of his nightmarish Christmas holiday in Vermont with his lawyer lady’s monumentally dysfunctional family. Mur is also dead-on as a doubtful Lou confronts Edna about the suitability of her relationship with a man who cannot see what she looks like.