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The Light Years

From 161 member  reviews
Members say: Disappointing, Ambitious, Slow, Confusing, Quirky

About the show

Playwrights Horizons presents the world premiere of The Debate Society's whimsical drama about a theatrical impresario whose daring imagination has life-changing consequences. More…

Behold The Spectatorium: an audacious, visionary 12,000-seat theater designed for the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 by Steele MacKaye, the now-forgotten impresario around whom this haunted, 40-year love story spins. 'The Light Years' is an epic, intimate tale of two families struggling to meet their future, and a spectacular tribute to man’s indomitable spirit of invention.

Member Reviews (161)


Disappointing, Ambitious, Slow, Confusing, Quirky
Avg Score

Ambitious, Quirky, Intelligent, Slow, Great staging

See it if Debate Society's latest atmospheric meta-drama Butler stages with panache on Jellinek's fabulous set but can't quite unite splintered script

Don't see it if Imaginative scenes & good acting (Sisto a standout) fails to engage us about time travelling tale of American dreamers Lots of style though

Ambitious, Charming, Imaginative, Thought-provoking, Quirky

See it if you have ever lived in hope. World Fairs are about the future even when things go wrong in the present. Lots of things go wrong, hope lives

Don't see it if you are too literal minded to imagine what comes next. Everyone in this play has a future and that future is now.

Clever, Ambitious, Quirky, Enchanting, Entertaining

See it if You're interested in unique, devised theatre created by one of the top troupes in the country. Or if you're interested in World's Fairs.

Don't see it if You don't like historical plays, or work that could be seen as being quirky just to be quirky.

Ambitious, Confusing, Disappointing

See it if you wish to be very confused. I wanted to like this show but I just couldn't understand it. Great set, great disappointment.

Don't see it if you want to understand what the plot was about. Ask others who did see it before you go. Maybe they understood it.

Confusing, Excruciating, Great staging, Banal, Periodically enchanting

See it if you like beautiful productions, sets and costumes. Good actors with little to sink their teeth into.

Don't see it if Too long at 1hr & 45 minutes; not much drama, comedy or action going on here, Boring.

Much ado about absolutely nothing, Banal, Cliched, Disappointing, Excruciating

See it if you want to see some very fine actors like Aya Cash, Erik Lochtefeld, & Rocco Sisto wasted in this piece of gibberish.

Don't see it if you want a stimulating evening in the theatre. This play goes nowhere fast.

Also Having seen work by the Debate Society before (such as "Jacuzzi", and ... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Disappointing, Slow, Intricate, Intelligent

See it if you like a play with high aspirations, even if it doesn't reach its goals.

Don't see it if you like linear plays with a strong narrative arc and a fast pace.

Also The actors are fine, the sets are a wonder, the lighting is amazing. F... Read more Read less

Great staging, Ambitious, Character study

See it if You want to see interesting characters in a historically acurate setting. Lighting is intriguing.

Don't see it if You want significant dramatic action.

Disappointing, Excruciating, Slow, Boring, Pointless

See it if The set was pretty. There were a couple of funny moments. The plot was certainly original.

Don't see it if I started looking at my watch at 8:40. There was no coherent plot or point. I didn't care about any of these characters.

Entertaining, Quirky, Ambitious

See it if you enoy unusual stories in two timelines or romantic stories about families and hard times.

Don't see it if you want a well developed solid plot and a more coherent storyline.

Beguiling, Creative, A little creaky, Lacks drama

See it if This humane story about dreams that almost succeed plays out at 2 Chicago World Fairs and is well-acted and charmingly told, but lacks...

Don't see it if ...the urgency that needs to accompany such hope if we are to retain our empathy. Captivating to sit through, but resonance evaporates.

Ambitious, Entertaining

See it if See if you are interested in history and family relationships. Beautifully staged .

Don't see it if If you do not like detailed , overly long and somewhat confusing plays.


See it if you are interested in stories about the 1893 Chicago World's Fair

Don't see it if you enjoy sophisticated drama.

Terrific lighting & staging, Yawn, Center doesn't hold, Slow, Ambitious

See it if You're a theatre tech lover. It only is the reason to see this (along with mom and not character). You care about World Fairs.

Don't see it if You struggle with sitting for nearly 2 hours through slow, intertwined story lines.

Also While there is lots of great effort here, the piece just doesn't hang ... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Disappointing, Tedious, Dull, Flat

See it if You have patience for a leaden show that has none of the awe, wonder & spectacle it tries to conjure & tie to hope, dreams, failure & time.

Don't see it if You're wanting resolutions, least of all happy ones, in any of its three parallel narrative arcs of ambition, aspiration, hope and failure.

Also Browning's line about "reach exceeding grasp" applies not only to the ... Read more Read less

Disappointing, Slow, Confusing

See it if enjoy family stories where the man of the house strives for "greatness," but keeps missing the mark.

Don't see it if you do not enjoy productions that go back and forth in time.

Slow, Disappointing, Ambitious, Clever, Great staging

See it if you are historically minded or are interested in looking at beautiful lighting. Lots of interesting factoids.

Don't see it if you are easily distracted or are looking for a relevant plot. Most of the characters don't elicit emotion, and the setting is overly complex

Ambitious, Clever, Disappointing, Indulgent, Confusing

See it if you are interested in Worlds Fairs, like shows that jump back and forth in time, want to see some good acting.

Don't see it if you are looking for a show with a message--the ending doesn't have a point. Don't see it if you are easily bored. Ultimately disappointing.

Ambitious, Cliched, Disappointing, Quirky, Slow

See it if you enjoy plays that throw a bunch of stuff at the wall, hoping something will stick.

Don't see it if you prefer plays that are lean and focused

Clever, Disappointing

See it if You like lights and learning about interesting but not well-known historical figures.

Don't see it if You want your theater to be engaging and cathartic.

Ambitious, Intelligent, Quirky, Resonant, Indulgent

See it if you are ready to accept ambiguity and elusiveness in order to find moments of extraordinary beauty and resonance.

Don't see it if prefer plays with a clear narrative, theme and structure.

Light is not illumination here

See it if cheap ticket available. Extravagant set. Performers spill into aisles to manufacture interest, to scant avail. Sisto and Cash shine as usual

Don't see it if you need an intermission, and you likely will to flee. Show goes nowhere. Child's hair too long and modern for the 1930s. Poorly conceived.

Also PH continues a streak of less than stellar productions. Light at end o... Read more Read less

Disappointing, Slow, Ambitious, Confusing, Boring

See it if You really love Playwrights. The acting and staging here are fine, although I can't recommend this meandering, boring play

Don't see it if You have anything else to do

No clear message or takeaway

See it if So it's about 2 Chicago World Fairs-- 40 years apart. The plot details the lives of people/families involved in both fairs, in various roles

Don't see it if Non-linear and goes nowhere pretty quick. The concept of failed aspirations is interesting but it drags for almost 2 hours & no intermission

Great staging, Slow, Great set, Well acted, Somewhat indulgent

See it if you'd like an off-beat drama, with comedy and romance, set against the background of science and history.

Don't see it if you have limited patience.

March 13th, 2017
"Finds a sweet, plaintive and ultimately too unvaried melody in its stories of failed aspirations...What the production lacks, curiously, is the surprise of theatrical spontaneity...Alternates between the 1890s and the 1930s with fluid grace and clarity. It has an attentive ear for the language a...
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March 13th, 2017
"A theatrical cabinet of wonders...It’s the most ambitious contraption assembled to date by the 10-year-old Debate Society...Butler’s direction holds it all together, even if the first hour seems a trifle padded and meandering. While 'The Light Years' is ultimately tenuous in its dramatic circuit...
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March 13th, 2017
"Plenty of wattage but little illumination...The time-bouncing tale falls far short of the historic, personal and cosmic connections the show’s creators are so clearly after. It’s a muddle of thinly realized notions, wrapped in a quirky sensibility that estranges rather than endears...'The Light ...
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March 20th, 2017
"You’d think with all the talk of illumination there’d be clarity. Not so much in this collaboration of writers Hanna Bos and Paul Thureen and director Oliver Butler, collectively known as Debate Society. The focus—such as it is—are thwarted dreamers at Chicago’s World Fairs in 1893 and 1933...Ne...
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