TFT’s “Shadow” Haunts Your Holiday Cheer with an Outstanding Performance
“A Shadow That Broke the Light,” a performance installation in response to the opioid crisis written and performed by Charlie DelMarcelle and directed by David Girard, played 14 performances 12/18-12/21 at Collar Works. You read that right. There were 12 performances of the solo piece between Friday night at 7 pm and Saturday at 7:30 pm. I caught the first performance of that evening at 7 pm.
The performance is written and performed by the brother of Joey DelMarcelle, who died of a heroin overdose 5 years ago in the home of a third brother Adam DelMarcelle, who has an offstage role in the evening’s performance. He saw light coming from the room his brother Joey was using and a shadow that broke the light.
The audience gets a different vibe by this setting just by walking into Collar Works space, located in the rear basement of Hudson Arthaus, an apartment community emblazoned with a huge sign on River Street, “Shelter for the body, art for the soul.” The performer, Charlie DelMarcelle welcomes you, thanks you for coming and fusses with his performance space which consists of an old wooden box record player on a stand, a poker table with cards and chips, a chair with a guitar in its stand and a microphone and far upstage center, two white stands that hold a basket of clothesline pins and a stack of fabric. The large unfinished basement space is divided into a room by a wood frame, like the skeleton of a house that has two lines of string horizontally running around it. There are dozens of mismatched kitchen and dining-room chairs facing the performance space. The superb art & installation are by Adam DelMarcelle, scenic design by Colin McIlvaine, technical direction by Obadiah Savage, sound design by Ben Zima and stage managed by Camryn Beck.
We will discover shortly that the stack of fabric is paper constituted from the clothes of addicts made by Adam DelMarcelle, and the paper squares will be hung on the string during the course of the piece shutting out the light. Charlie introduces the piece and what we will see and hear during the performance. He tells us that his brother Joey has died of a heroin overdose and he ties his brother’s death into a broader picture of what’s going on in America with the number of deaths due to opioid use. There are 197 deaths in America due to opioid use every day, every 7 minutes 18 seconds. That’s why during the course of the show, every 7 minutes 18 seconds we hear a high-pitched tone bell ring three times and Charlie will stop what he is doing (playing a song, telling a story) and start a ritual that will begin the next piece. The bell is life interrupted by a sudden death, a tear in the fabric.
The ritual that starts every section of the piece is a trip around the space turning on four lights with a studied formality (the hanging lamp above the poker table is always done with two hands, one pulling the cord, one steadying the glass shade) and visiting the clothespins and stack of paper, retrieving the tools and hanging another square of paper on the space. It is a startlingly effective evocation of life’s rhythms and actions and the disturbance that a single death has on the pageant.
The performance is chockful of stories. Many revivifying stories of Charlie’s brother Joey. Warm, loving and filled with humor. You are at the kitchen table hearing loving remembrances of one who has passed. There are also many stories from grieving friends and acquaintances who have shared with Mr. DelMarcelle what it was like to lose their loved one to an overdose. These are played simply by the actor, with character shifts in physical embodiment and tones of voice. At one point, Charlie plays his director, David Girard, and there was a loud, fond laugh from the knowing audience in recognition at the characterization.
One recurring theme picked up in those stories is the inability through shame to write an obituary for the loved one. Mr. DelMarcelle can also pick up the guitar and play “Let it Be” or “The Ballad of Billy the Kid” by Billy Joel, he apologetically lets us know that was Joey’s favorite. Most wrenching for us, and no doubt for him, are the stories of his brother-maddening, outrageous and awestruck at the fabulous creation that is his little brother which gut us with what the DelMarcelles and in a larger sense what we’ve all lost with his brother’s untimely death….and then the bell goes off.
At one point, fittingly enough for the dates on which this piece was performed, Charlie speaks of Marley and his declaration to Scrooge that “These are the chains that I forged in life!” and he talks of his chains. His regrets and guilt that he has in his dealings with his brother and family. They didn’t confront him, they didn’t check him into rehab…they didn’t talk. He lists his regrets one by one…and then the bell goes off.
Charlie DelMarcelle and his director David Girard have done a masterful job telling this story. It is direct, forceful and devastating in its impact. I marveled at Charlie’s ability to memorialize his brother in this manner and the thought that he had 11 more performances to go that day of this wrenching story left me aghast. He is a good guy, great company and I felt inextricably bound to him and his family by performance’s end. I know that in a certain way, Charlie DelMarcelle and his brother’s Joey and Adam have entered the life of my family lore and how I will tell stories of my brothers.
David Girard, as director of “A Shadow That Broke the Light” and Artistic Director of Troy Foundry Theatre have done an enormous service to Capital Region theater and all who attended. The first two performances benefitted Nopiates and CDPHP’s The Foundation, two local organizations addressing the opioid epidemic. “A Shadow That Broke the Light” was a shocking fulfillment of Troy Foundry Theatre’s promise to work on new material in an original way in found spaces throughout Troy that will make you reconsider what is theater and how does it serve and enrich our life. It is the most moving theater in its intimate particulars I have seen in years, it took hours for me to shake it and I’m sure I will remember and talk about it lovingly for the rest of my life. It was not a great idea for me to leave so quickly as I fought tears on my drive south on 787 for a good stretch. In this horrific tale of grief, guilt and our failures, Troy Foundry Theatre lifted us up and showed us the light that gets switched back on for me most nights in Capital Region Theatre. Outstanding!
At the end of the piece Mr. DelMarcelle leaves a space for the audience to respond. A Quaker Meeting and its traditions are referenced as he is setting aside the last 7 minutes, 18 seconds for us. A man spoke about losing his sister-in-law, Adam DelMarcelle spoke of his brother Joey and we gratefully put his face to the stories we had heard of him and the art we’ve witnessed for the last hour and a half. And I spoke. My oldest brother Mike died of an overdose this week, 20 years ago, 12/29/1999. I spoke of how as a family we hadn’t spoken about it much and how the death continues to impact us…and then the bell went off.
Photos of Charlie DelMarcelle by Emily Curro