The play opens on young artist Sarah (played by Corrina Van Hamlin) painting an abstract work on a canvas, seeming focused and content. With each stroke of her brush, the projection facing the audience beautifully mimics her actions in both color and motion. When the projection version of her painting starts to seep black, she frantically tries to paint color and life over her canvas to erase the darkness, to no avail. This intertwining of the projection mixed with Van Hamlin’s stage acting cleverly represents the beginning of Sarah’s loss of control in her life.
We next see Sarah as she meets a handsome sculptor (played by Dennis Corsi) outside of a gallery, and the possibility of romance and happiness for Sarah arises. This, however, soon leads to another low, as she is seen again trying to work in her studio – now with a crying infant in tow. Unable to focus on her piece as her infant wails and wails, she pleads, “If I don’t paint, the dark comes back.”
As she lies on the floor begging for help, an apparition of sorts appears (played by Allison Amon), offering Sarah an opportunity for relief. The apparition, a priestess and “dream hunter” named Khaleigha, takes Sarah into a fantasy realm.
Sarah’s entry into a fantasy land gets slightly bogged down in a side storyline about the priestess and an ongoing war in her land. We can see that Khaleigha has brought stability and happiness to Sarah, but why Sarah in particular was necessary to help the priestess isn’t made entirely clear and is a bit confusing. But superb acting from Van Hamlin and Amon – and their great chemistry together – alleviates the bumps from this side-plot.
The story ends as Sarah unwillingly returns to reality in New York City decades later, to a confused adult daughter (played by Casey Shipman) trying to simultaneously help and reconnect with her mother. Sarah finally tries to abandon her delusions to find the meaning in reality, and we are left wondering if she ever will.
Overall the play was a gem for Lansing’s Riverwalk Theatre. The sets were creative and modern, the transitions between scenes and sets were smooth, and the mixture of storytelling via projection, stage acting and recordings was extremely original.
Although many films and stories attempt plot twists to showcase a character’s fall into psychosis, Khaleigha’s representation of both Sarah’s salvation and fall into delusion is creative and well-written overall. Van Hamlin particularly does an exceptional job of portraying a person sincerely struggling inside her own head. Even with the occasional fantastical plot stretch, “Painting the Dark” is an engrossing and fresh take on the fragility of the human mind.