Review: World Premiere Of ‘Project Dawn’ At People’s Light

Project Dawn

The talented People’s Light cast of “Project Dawn” includes, seated: Janis Dardaris, standing l-r: Melanye Finister, Antoinette LaVecchia and Yvette Ganier. Photo by Mark Garvin

By Margie Royal

Now through July 9, People’s Light is staging the world premiere of “Project Dawn” by Karen Hartman, directed by Abigail Adams.

It’s always interesting to see new work staged. The word “playwright” addresses the hard work of how a creative work is wrought and the sweat involved in getting it right. The first rule is “show, don’t tell”, meaning the story and the characters must engage the audience’s interest first so that the audience can understand and sympathize with their plight. If the play ends and you’ve been entertained, great. If you’ve learned some truth about the world and yourself, even better. Having characters deliver long, preachy rants to the audience and who the audience hasn’t yet felt the need to root for, is a big turn-off. It’s one of the areas that Ms. Hartman might want to look at if she decides to do more work on “Project Dawn”.

The concept of “Project Dawn” is an interesting one: tell the stories of women caught in the cycle of prostitution and the work of those involved with our justice system who try to pull them out of poverty, drug use and abuse. As the popularity of the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black” shows, there is an audience for stories about women from all levels of society who make bad choices and must pay the price.

The play’s multiple scenes are nicely handled on the tiny Steinbright stage at People’s Light by set designer Jessica Ford and lighting designer Dennis Pariachy. The first act shows scenes in the court bathroom, the courtroom, Cassie’s home and the streets of Philadelphia. While this works in television, it’s more difficult in the theatre. In theatre, you don’t have the leisure that you do in television to show the realities of work and home life that each character experiences. The theatre is a more tightly focused form of storytelling. “Project Dawn” might be better served as television drama where the multiple visuals will help hold the interest of the viewer.

People’s Light is staging a new work that feels like it was written to win a grant — which it received. Here’s the winning formula: tell a story in Philadelphia spotlighting a real-life court system, and feature an all-women and racially diverse cast, and address sexual exploitation and the social injustice of our society. And, because it’s theatre, have each of the actresses play double roles: as an exploited woman and a character that’s working as an advocate for change.

The playwright asks in the first act, “Where is the rage?” Audiences attending this production will be served plenty of it, including a long, scolding rant aimed directly at the affluent audiences who attend shows at People’s Light.

If you go, you’ll have many chances to discuss social issues with the cast after the performance.

People’s Light has assembled a fine, talented group of actresses for this premiere. The show features Janis Dardaris as Bonnie/Judge Kaplan; Yvette Ganier as Shondell/Kyla; Susanna Guzman as Lola/Nia, Claire Inie-Richards as Ashlee/Noelle; Antoinette LaVecchia as Cassie/Gwen and Danielle Skraastad Tracy/Sister Carol.

There will be a Q&A after Thursday evening performances on June 22, 29 and July 6 and Sunday matinee performances on June 18, 25, July 2 & 9.

Tickets start at $38. For reservations, call 610-644-3500 or visit