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.

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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.

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See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

The New York Times

"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 and mores of its different eras and the professional argot of its characters...You respect the avid curiosity of the show’s creators, but their interests don’t translate into infectious passion." Full Review


“Playing a legendary man of the theater, Sisto explodes with extravagant vitality…In Butler's lavish yet restrained staging, the house becomes like an eighth character…Butler displays an impressive command of time, speeding the narrative up and slowing it down so this decade-hopping story comes together seamlessly…Even though it drags in sections, it is impossible not to admire the sheer audacity of building a play around the necessity of failure in the creative process.” Full Review


“Audiences love a good story about pioneering innovators who succeed despite the odds, and ‘The Light Years'’ affection for those who fail despite a grand effort is certainly worthy. The cast does a terrific job, but while the play has amusing and empathetic moments, the evening quickly loses steam when the authors start getting philosophical in their attempts to establish a connection between the two sets of characters.” Full Review


"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 Years' over-aspires, while at the same time feels eerily incomplete and disconnected...Themes are presented in a sometimes-arch, sometimes-haunting style that fails to jell or engage." Full Review

Time Out New York

"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 circuitry, it gives off ample luminosity, powered by whimsy and wonder." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen have conceived a complex, clanking piece of dramatic machinery that produces such tiny and inconsequential revelations that one has to wonder if all that effort was really worth it...What really makes 'The Light Years' so lackluster is that, MacKaye aside, none of these characters are very interesting...This is especially unfortunate, since the stage is filled with such appealing performers...An elaborate dream that never comes to fruition." Full Review

Front Row Center

“A long and uneventful story…This is a well-intentioned piece, but it is missing the ‘WHY’ that is the required center of every story ever told…The dialogue is bland and disconnected. They speak, but their words don’t connect…These characters never step out of two dimensions and into the world of living, breathing beings. We leave the theatre filled with fascinating anecdotes. Our hunger for humanity, however, remains unsatisfied.” Full Review

The Huffington Post

“A stitched together creation with each part somehow shakily competent but not quite satisfying…Despite a game cast and some solid technical work, neither section of ‘The Light Years’ holds any interest on their own. And cutting back and forth simply underlines that lack of innate drama (or comedy, as the case may be). The technical elements are solid though the play itself can’t quite inspire greatness…The cast does what it can with very thin material.” Full Review

Theatre's Leiter Side

“The concept seems forced in order to make a point about following one's dream and to offer a theatrical image of differences in American society across the years. MacKaye's tale alone, and what he went through before having to scale back his goals, would have made a far more interesting play about American aspiration and technological progress, especially if some creative means had been found to represent what he was after. Here we get some light but very little illumination.” Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"Despite the exciting, ironclad concept and a wealth of possibilities, the characters and the action are inert early on and preposterous later, without a smooth transition between the states. The sole energizing force is the women...The performers work intensely, and land most of their laughs, but don't find the emotional connections that Cash and MacKaye do. Not that there's that much to find...'The Light Years' is memorable more for what it tries than what it accomplishes." Full Review

Times Square Chronicles

“Time intertwines these two couples together as their lives pass back and forth in a romantic, yet magical way…The cast is award-winning with Ms. Cash superbly inhabiting both roles…Bos and Thureen have a way with dialogue, but not with endings. We see and learn so much, and are rapt the whole time, but it is not the words that impress us in the end, but the spectacular lights..Sadly what started out with a bang, leaves us empty and unfulfilled in the end.” Full Review

New York Daily News

"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...Neither succeeds. Except for maintaining a wistful tone, the overlong show doesn’t either." Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"This play carries a lot of the same vision and childlike fun, but sadly the light loses some focus and drive as we move deeper into the shadows of its lovely sad tale...Bos and Thureen do an impressive job giving us clever, loving dialogue and some wonderful, engaging characters, but the big picture is a little harder to see...We keep waiting for astounding, only to get quaint and sweet instead. It’s a lot of sound and fury, signifying, well not nothing, but something not enough." Full Review


"Their stories have a lovely Americana flavor, but aren't too saccharine to overlook that as everyman-woman-child counterparts they also had to deal with dreams that go sour...Butler has assembled a fine cast to navigate the 40-years apart worlds...Butler not only keeps the actors fluidly moving back and forth in time but around the versatile basic set...While 'The Light Years' covers a lot of ground, it would be even better if it could do so in about ten minutes less." Full Review


"Ambitious, theatrical and imaginative...The scenario is engaging and the characters are lovingly rendered. The material is perfectly realized by Mr. Butler’s vibrant direction...The actual plots are not overly gripping, but are part of the show’s warm fabric of presenting these bygone eras of American life with charm, whimsy and humanity...Though stylized, the performances never devolve into parody." Full Review

Bob's Theater Blog

"The alternation of scenes between the two time periods is not really confusing, but produces a repeated loss of focus. Just as the aspirations of almost everyone in the play are not achieved, neither are the aspirations of the play’s creators. Despite the fine acting, impressive set design by Laura Jellinek, great period costumes by Michael Krass and an amazing lighting design by Russell H. Champa, the play fizzles rather than sizzles." Full Review


“‘The Light Years’ tosses off lots and lots of ideas. Unfortunately, it omits the glue that might help the audience put them together…The play, which uses a moving scroll at the side of the stage—MacKaye’s invention—to provide added information, is, I’d guess, a cautionary but hopeful tale about human progress, the eternal, love, life, death and things I’m sure I missed. It’s certainly not uninteresting, but it’s extremely frustrating in its lack of connective tissue.” Full Review

Daily Beast

“A charming if slightly belabored play…Utter chaos, developed and directed with a genuine thrill of what-will-happen-next by Oliver Butler, unfolds...‘The Light Years’ is best in when it is playing with the world of light, and a little more plodding when it trades in conventional domestic drama...But the play is bound and threaded by a belief in creativity and wonder; a wide-eyed pleasure in all that we don’t know, and then bamboozle ourselves trying to invent.” Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"Its lack of focus diminishes its impact...The two plot lines run on parallel tracks...While they don’t detract from each other, neither do they add...Coexistence is a good thing in many situations, but it doesn’t provide much dramatic tension...Oliver Butler’s direction is fine but doesn’t clarify the play’s point of view or justify its lacking one. Many individual scenes and moments work well on their own but don’t contribute to the piece as a whole." Full Review

Village Voice

“The two intercut stories seem to fade in and out, rather than gaining momentum or strength from each other. Laden with explanations of historical tidbits that are hard to care about, both stories also contain glitchy, arbitrary turns that keep distancing the characters from us...Full of visual beauty, intelligent writing and fine acting, 'The Light Years' nonetheless seems to orbit farther away from our grasp with each new scene.” Full Review

Off Off Online

“Bos and Thureen’s script too often gets bogged down by didacticism, as if all the keen bits of historical lore they uncovered in their research had to be included. Unfortunately, it doesn’t substitute for dramatic conflict, and the struggles on both sides of the 40-year gap don’t really seize and hold one’s attention the way the visuals do. The actors perform well…But one wishes there were a more compelling reason to spend time with these characters than living history.” Full Review


"[I]t is the script by Ms. Bos and Mr. Thureen that makes 'The Light Years' one the best new plays in quite some time." Full Review

Reflections in the Light

"Cash is excellent as both female protagonists...Oliver Butler's direction is tight and focused, giving the two time periods distinction while avoiding confusion...The play gets point just for being different. This is not your typical story or presentation. An amazing amount of storytelling occurs in one hours and 45 minutes with no intermission...The play can be a bit scattered and struggles to find its ending." Full Review

Reviewing The Drama

"I think what kept me engaged throughout the performance was the desire and hope that there would be something to engage with, something potent, some kind of payoff. That payoff never came...I suppose we're meant to be enchanted by the journey the families take...There were nice performances throughout, particularly from Cash, Lochtefeld, and Barnett, all of which added value to the performance. But it just didn't grab me." Full Review

More Than The Play Blog

“A story of inspiration and ingenuity…A heartfelt story of struggle, loss, and persistence. Director Oliver Butler chooses a distinctive style for the production that captures the spirit of the time period…The actors create a clear illusion that makes it easy and enjoyable to follow…The entire cast does an amazing job with this well written script, yet the stylistic concept of the characterizations does not allow for a personalized connection to the audience.” Full Review

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

Ambitious, Clever, Enchanting, Entertaining, Great staging

See it if you want to see a visually inventive look at light and history seen through the eyes of two time periods. An intimate tale yet universal.

Don't see it if you aren't open to magical storytelling with two time lines operating at once.

Funny, Banal, Disappointing, Cliched, Fluffy

See it if you must see everything. Funny for all the wrong reasons.

Don't see it if you are looking for something substantive in a show. This show was very drawn-out and cliched.

Quirky, Disappointing, Slow, Beautiful set

See it if Supporting a great theatre company that solely does new works give you joy!

Don't see it if You don't want to be completely bored for what felt like 3 hours.

Slow, Goes nowhere, Did i mention it's slow?

See it if Can't think of many reasons to see it. Premise had promise, but poorly executed. Underused actors. So slow I checked the time 5x in 105-min.

Don't see it if .. Don't see it unless you want to support the cast/crew, who do the best they can.

Also The most interesting scene was the one in which the electrician's assi... Read more Read less

Clever, Great acting, Quirky, Confusing

See it if you like a well done show focused around the Chicago Expositions of 1893 and 1933. It is well researched and has interesting characters.

Don't see it if are looking for a rousing or profound work of theater, although it is engaging and not boring.

Clever, Confusing, Entertaining

See it if Like unusual subject and presentation

Don't see it if na

Confusing, Great staging, Informative

See it if you like pieces that have an historical basis.

Don't see it if you want a fleshed out story that fills in all the gaps. Left with too many questions.

Slow, Well acted, Great staging, Great set, 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.

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

Clever, Edgy, Great acting

See it if like innovative drama with original staging and technical effects

Don't see it if somewhat confusing plot lines.

Ambitious, Clever, Quirky, Disappointing, Conceptual

See it if unconventional, conceptual

Don't see it if interesting concept that does not live up to its full potential

Ambitious, Quirky, Disappointing, Cliched, 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

Indulgent, Banal, Confusing, Disappointing, Excruciating

See it if you LOVE period details

Don't see it if you want a moving, thought provoking evening in the theatre

Ambitious, Disappointing, Muddled, Poorly written, Weird

See it if you like interesting ideas, an elaborate production, and good performances.

Don't see it if you like to take-away something from a play you see. This is a muddle, yet there are worthwhile elements.

Ambitious, Great acting, Disappointing, Slow, Fluffy

See it if you appreciate history and want a newer story and are easily impressed by visual design.

Don't see it if you can't sit for long, as it's one act and almost 2 hours.

Ambitious, Clever, Enchanting, Quirky, 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.

Clever, Quirky, Disappointing, Slow, Great staging

See it if you don't mind a slow show that doesn't pay off much at the end. The staging is lovely and the acting is good.

Don't see it if you get frustrated with a slow show that doesn't go much of anywhere.

Banal, Disappointing, Excruciating, Insipid, Slow

See it if you are interested in the Chicago World's Fair. You won't learn much.

Don't see it if you expect a plot or to be entertained. This is a very slow show that seemed like it would never end.

Ambitious, Enchanting, Indulgent, Disappointing, Slow

See it if you want to see wonderful set design that doesn't live up to the confusing, stalled storyline that is given its best by very talented actors

Don't see it if you are thrown off by a meandering somewhat non-sensical storyline

Ambitious, Clever, Disappointing, Slow, 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

Enchanting, Great acting, Slow

See it if you enjoy great acting, history or World's Fairs.

Don't see it if you don't like a slow pace, a meandering storyline or multiple timelines.

Ambitious, Thought-provoking, Resonant, Confusing, Slow

See it if you want to encounter a captivating & confounding & compassionate rumination on the precarity of artistic aspiration

Don't see it if you need narrative clarity

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.

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, Slow, Affected, Ionic

See it if To witness a stage manager's and electrician's nightmare; for a really lovely onstage time lapse/transition scene

Don't see it if Annoyed by hyper-affectation in script or performance

Cast & Creatives (15)