You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Edinburgh Theater Review: ‘Anything That Gives Off Light,’ Directed by Rachel Chavkin

Jessica Almasy, Brian Ferguson, Sandy Grierson, with musicians Annis Grace, Cat Myers, Maya Sharpe.

Most theatrical road movies take a trip through the landscape; this one goes on a journey through time. Directed by Rachel Chavkin, “Anything That Gives Off Light,” part of the Edinburgh International Festival, is a Scottish-U.S. co-production that digs deep into the collective past of the two nations to examine the gap between truth and mythology. If it sometimes feels more like a political treatise than a fully fledged drama, it is nonetheless compellingly acted by the American actress Jessica Almasy with Scotland’s Brian Ferguson and Sandy Grierson, and constructed with a heady disregard for the Aristotelian unities.

An acronym for Theater of the Emerging American Moment, Brooklyn company The TEAM specializes in cross-cultural mash-ups, routinely fusing video, music, history, literature and politics. Edinburgh favorites since the award-winning Fringe shows “Give Up! Start Over” (2005) and “Particularly in the Heartland” (2006), the company first collaborated with the National Theater of Scotland on 2008’s “Architecting,” which made a characteristically unorthodox link between “Gone with the Wind” and post-Katrina New Orleans. Meanwhile, founder-director Chavkin (“Hadestown,” “Small Mouth Sounds”) has productions all over New York this year, and steps up to Broadway with her $14 million production of “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812,” opening at the Imperial Theater in November.

Comparatively, “Anything That Gives Off Light” is less eclectic in its source material, although it has a similar breadth of ambition in its grand political statement about our place in history. The set-up is straightforward: Red, a woman from West Virginia (Almasy), stumbles into a Scottish bar and meets real-estate manager Brian (Ferguson) and his drop-out friend Iain (Grierson), who offer to take her on a sight-seeing trip to the Highlands.

All three are conflicted. Far from home, Red is in Scotland on a second honeymoon but has arrived without her husband. “Leaving isn’t a simple matter,” she says. Carrying the ashes of his left-leaning grandmother, the London-based Brian is in his native Scotland for the weekend and wrestling with his identity: “I’m calibrating my Scottishness.” In a late-developing storyline (too late for emotional impact), Iain reveals that his frequent outbursts of anger are a response to a secret cancer diagnosis; his body is literally at war with itself.

This inner uncertainty finds a parallel in the journey they take. They tick off the destinations in the standard tourist itinerary, but keep finding contradictions in the historical narrative. It’s all very well romanticizing the Scottish Highlander (think Mel Gibson in “Braveheart”), but if your ancestors were from the Lowlands, they were probably complicit in destroying the Highland way of life during the clearances of the 18th century.

That in turn led to an exodus to the U.S. and, with it, some of the ideas that characterize the American mindset to this day. Slipping seamlessly from continent to continent and century to century in Chavkin’s fluid production (complete with country-folk interventions by the onstage band), the play suggests the spirit of free enterprise, exemplified by the “invisible hand” theory of Scottish economist Adam Smith, has led to desolation in the Scottish countryside and environmental ruin in the coalfields of West Virginia.

As an analysis, it has its roots in John McGrath’s landmark play “The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil,” a socialist overview of the historical exploitation of Scotland’s poor. In its concerns about the nature of identity, it has much in common with Stephen Greenhorn’s “Passing Places” (another road movie for the stage) and several plays by David Greig. Thanks to the American collaboration, it moves those ideas onto a global platform, although it sometimes feels more like undigested polemic than fully embodied drama.

To compensate, we have Almasy, Ferguson and Grierson, three distinctive actors perfectly matched, giving tough, intelligent performances, masking an inner warmth behind their deadpan wit.

Edinburgh Theater Review: 'Anything That Gives Off Light,' Directed by Rachel Chavkin

Edinburgh International Conference Center; 360 Seats; £25 ($33) top. Opened and reviewed Aug. 18, 2016. Running time: 1 HOUR, 50 MIN.

Production: A co-production by the TEAM, the National Theater of Scotland and the Edinburgh International Festival of a one-act play written by Jessica Almasy, Davey Anderson, Rachel Chavkin, Brian Ferguson and Sandy Grierson.

Creative: Directed by Rachel Chavkin. Created in collaboration with Matt Hubbs, Nick Vaughan, Brian Hastert and Libby King. Associate director, Davey Anderson; composers, Shaun Bengson and Abigail Nessen Bengson; design, Nick Vaughan; lighting, Chahine Yavroyan; sound, Matt Hubbs; company stage manager, Anne Page.

Cast: Jessica Almasy, Brian Ferguson, Sandy Grierson, with musicians Annis Grace, Cat Myers, Maya Sharpe.

More Legit

  • 'Black Super Hero Magic Mama' Review

    L.A. Theater Review: 'Black Super Hero Magic Mama'

    What function do superhero stories play in American society? Are they merely escapist distractions for head-in-the-clouds teens, or could those same formats actually serve a practical function, providing useful tools for everyday life? Recognizing these comic book fantasies as by far the dominant form of contemporary mythmaking for a generation of young people, emerging playwright [...]

  • Danielle Brooks'Ain't Too Proud - The

    How 'Orange Is the New Black' Star Danielle Brooks Became a Broadway Producer

    Danielle Brooks earned a Tony nomination when she made her Broadway debut as Sofia in the 2015 revival of “The Color Purple,” but now the “Orange Is the New Black” star is working behind the scenes as a producer on the new jukebox musical “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations.” “I [...]

  • Ain't Too Proud review

    Broadway Review: 'Ain't Too Proud'

    In the wake of the long-running “Jersey Boys” and the short-lived “Summer,” director Des McAnuff is back on Broadway with another show built around the song catalog of a music act — and although “Ain’t Too Proud” has all the right sounds and slick moves, this bio-musical of the R&B vocal group the Temptations is [...]

  • 'White Noise' Theater Review: Suzan-Lori Parks

    Off Broadway Review: Daveed Diggs in 'White Noise'

    Any new play by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (“Topdog / Underdog”) demands — and deserves — attention. And in its premiere production at the Public Theater, her latest, “White Noise,” opens with a burst of brainy energy that lasts through the first act. But it takes a nosedive in the sloppy second half, [...]

  • Alexander Dinelaris

    'Jekyll and Hyde' Movie in the Works Based on Broadway Musical

    The Broadway musical “Jekyll and Hyde” is getting the movie treatment from Academy Award winner Alexander Dinelaris. Dinelaris, who is writing and producing the adaptation, won an Oscar for the “Birdman” script and was a co-producer on “The Revenant.” He is producing “Jekyll and Hyde” as the first project under his New York-based development company, [...]

  • Sam Mendes

    Listen: The 'Balls-Out Theatricality' of Sam Mendes

    If you find yourself directing a Broadway play with a cast so big it includes a goose, two rabbits, more kids than you can count and an actual infant, what do you do? If you’re Sam Mendes, you embrace the “balls-out theatricality” of it all. Listen to this week’s podcast below: Related Confused By Broadway’s [...]

  • James Corden Tony Awards

    James Corden to Host 2019 Tony Awards (EXCLUSIVE)

    James Corden has been tapped to once again host the Tony Awards, Variety has learned exclusively. “The Late Late Show” host previously emceed the annual theater awards show in 2016, and won the Tony for best actor in a play for his performance in “One Man, Two Guvnors” in 2012. Related Confused By Broadway’s ‘Great Comet’ [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content