Actors and set carry ‘Isaac’s Eye’ at Lansing Community College


To kick off its 2023-’24 season, Lansing Community College presents “Isaac’s Eye,” by Lucas Hnath, at the increasingly difficult-to-access Black Box Theatre 8 p.m. Friday (Oct. 13) and Saturday (Oct. 14). Thanks to the indefinite closure of the Dart Auditorium, road construction nearby, a paucity of signage and recently enhanced security efforts, including keeping the doors to the Gannon Building and theater locked and unattended in the moments before the show starts, it’s best to leave a little extra time to get to the theater because finding it is more a matter of luck than guidance. Apparently, the only way into the theater is via the adjacent parking garage, so don’t bother parking anywhere else.

The lives of Isaac Newton (Chet Brayton) and his now-forgotten contemporary Robert Hooke (Jonathan Riley) are the center of the action in the show, with Newton’s unrelenting desire to be accepted into the Royal Society being the driving force of his life. Newton goes to shocking and surprising lengths, including blackmail, to guarantee that his dream comes true.

Catherine (Will Milstein) is the muse and love interest who stokes a rivalry between Newton and Hooke. Actor/Dying Man (Camilla Trudell) serves as the narrator and guides the audience through this meta-theater examination of highly regarded but not-so-perfect men. Riley exudes an easy charm and handles the change in fortunes and tone that his character experiences rather well. I found Newton’s inscrutability a little off-putting, and I felt like I was watching the same tantrum over and over, but that may have been due to artistic choice and character interpretation presenting Newton as possibly autistic.

Trudell shows a great deal of promise while playing multiple characters, including one that conversationally breaks the fourth wall very well. All actors speak clearly, move well, stay true to their blocking and keep the tempo moving forward by hitting all their cues. I saw a precise, focused and well-prepared play, but I feel it was a little too safe and careful, lacking the high highs and low lows I like to see in a drama. I wish the stakes were higher, the passions were more intense and the exaltations and condemnations were stronger than what I saw Friday night (Oct. 6).

A minimally constructed and roughly finished set is offset by a beautiful floor covering torn from the pages of Newton’s journal, detailing the experiment he proposes in the play. A simple two-chair and café table configuration with no set changes and few props leaves plenty of space for the actors. There are occasional sound cues and at least three light cues — blackout, pre/post-show and full wash — but that’s a sore disappointment for a show dedicated to the discussion and study of light. I feel that this play certainly calls for special lighting effects that are not provided. 

There are several jarring moments in the play, but the most noticeable are the occasional interspersions of modern slang and language, including adding F-bombs into the dialogue, which otherwise usually remains lofty and status-appropriate. I don’t see how it enhances the play to swear and add iconoclastic phraseology, but that’s how the playwright put it on paper, so I guess I should ask him about it and not blame this production.


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