by June Pichel Cook
GREENSBORO – “Hands of Light,” a play by the late Bernard Pomerance, is a modern allegory of human tragedy recreated through the Greek and Roman legend of King Midas, intertwining both contemporary times with ancient Phrygia. The play is a mastery of plots and subplots, interwoven within a Gordian Knot of human values, family relationships, power and greed, Capitalism and Mother Earth.
The Greensboro Arts Alliance and Residency and Mirror Theater, in collaboration with the Highland Center for the Arts, and Vermont Public Radio are streaming a dramatic reading of “Hands of Light” on August 20, 21, 22, 23, as a benefit for AWARE.
In an interview with Eve Pomerance, the playwright’s daughter, co-producer, and casting director, she said, “My father first wrote this play in 2008 after the devastating Wall Street crash. He watched everyone he knew lose all of their money and was struck by how capitalism had failed everyone.”
“He was very struck by how people’s faith in gold had failed them and left them empty handed. The central allegory about the shift in everyone’s value system was apparent. He started to think about the Midas story.”
Pomerance explained her father’s modern Midas is led to TV personality Donald Trump with his own reality show and to James Gandolfini, the mafia character in The Sopranos. Her father created a King Midas, a narcissistic man choosing to exile his son; his daughter is viewed as a mere object of beauty, and his wife traded for the secret of “being able to turn everything he touched into gold.”
The ironic parallels of isolation with COVID-19 and King Midas’ isolation will not be lost on viewers.
Her father also had a great concern for the natural environment, Pomerance said, and in the play “we have a Native American reverence for the earth meeting Capitalism.”
The references in the play to the Horsetamer, Holy Man, Old Woman and Earth Shrine are all indigenous references, Pomerance said.
“My father identified spiritually with the Hopi people. He believed fiercely in the notion of protecting Mother Earth.”
Her father wrote several plays touching on this theme: “Miranda” and “Melons.” “Melons” is the story of an indigenous chief fighting to protect his land from developers. “Miranda,” produced by GAAR last summer at the HCA, is the early meetings between the Pohwatan people and the pilgrims. The indigenous belief that you cannot sell or divide up Mother Earth clashed with the settlers’ greed and belief in Manifest Destiny.
“With Hands of Light,” Pomerance said, “[my father] tells the story of capitalism run awry, leading to a devastating crash in values as gold is devalued by Midas, and how the rest of the country copes with not being able to make enough money to buy a loaf of bread.”
Referring to the 2016 presidential election, Pomerance said her father predicted a Trump victory.
“Having spent several years studying his views and behavior [my father] predicted that Trump would win the presidency,” she said. “He had a grave concern about who would protect the natural world.”
GAAR Artistic Director Sabra McAteer-Jones said, “Pomerance in his plays deals with huge movements of people’s beliefs and values and most of all their hunger for ‘Something More,’ just as religion does.” The play is completely relevant to our time. It deals with the ‘Prosperity Gospel’ that assumes virtue if you have money and is at variance with every American idea of equality.”
“In the play, women are bought and sold and discarded,” McAteer-Jones said. “There is no more worthy cause than AWARE that deals with domestic and sexual violence. Any organization that deals with real problems for real people is a charity that cares about preserving life itself.”
Producing, directing, and streamlining a dramatic play reading during the pandemic with lockdowns and social distancing opens itself to a creative avalanche. Both McAteer-Jones and Pomerance talked about the “wingspan” of Zoom, with actors in California, Toronto, New York, Vermont, and “all over Great Britain.” The cast features Michael Tomlinson as Cracky. Tomlinson is familiar to audiences for his role in “Miranda.” Nicole Ansari, Nucia, the wife of King Midas, is no stranger to audiences for her role in “Sinners,” performed several years ago at the Hardwick Town House. Jaime Loy plays the role of the Horse Tamer and Jamie Harris, Eteocles (the Greek).
Vermonters include Eve Passeltiner (Queen’s Attendant), Abigail Demers (Mila, the King’s Daughter), Jim Hogue (Holy Man), and Krissie Ohlorogge, (baker).
The play, a benefit for AWARE, will be streamed via the internet and viewed on screen at Highland Center for the Arts. Dates for the viewing at HCA will be announced on their website, highlandarts.org. Information to access the play through the internet can be found at themirror.org and the HCA website.
Eve Pomerance is a casting director, producer and writer who focuses on film which have a social or political relevance, and recently produced “Son of the South.” The film tells a story about a white Southerner whose life is given purpose when he joins the Freedom Riders and Civil Rights movement. She made the film because her mother, Sally Belfrage, was a Freedom Rider.