Donja R. Love’s Fireflies finds Olivia (DeWanda Wise) writing a letter to a woman who we assume is a friend, as she smokes a cigarette. The sky is on fire and we know something ominous is in the air.
The time is the 60’s, in the South, and change is in the air. Olivia, a black housewife, is preparing for her husband, Charles (Khris Davis), to return from preaching the word about the Civil Rights movement. News of the shooting of two young girls keeps this domestic homecoming not as cheerful as it could be. Olivia jumps into her husband’s arms and into his bed. But not all is as it seems. Both have secrets that need to come out, for they have reached the boiling point.
Though Charles is the star of the Civil Rights movement, it is Olivia’s words that are spoken. She gave up her career and is resentful. Charles may preach, but he drinks, sleeps around, is violent, and believes a woman’s place is in the home. Olivia is pregnant and does not want this child. She is in love with somebody else… a woman and she suffers from violent blackouts.
As we learn of Charles’ affair, we also learn the letter Olivia was writing in the beginning is one of hundreds of unsent letters to a woman she met once, and this romance can never be. Charles uses those letters to blackmail Olivia into not having an abortion when he leaves for the funerals if these young girls.
The play takes its name from Olivia’s sermon about fireflies, inspired by a dream she has had about God beckoning his chosen people home. They are the hope to which Olivia clings to.
There is a lot to this play about how secrets kept bottled up can wreak havoc on your soul. There is no doubt that all of this will end in tragedy.
Wise is luminescent in her portrayal of a woman so intelligent, so full of life, and so closeted that she is creating a war within her psyche. We bleed for her and wish for her a day and age for her to be set free. Davis allows us to see how important Olivia is to Charles despite his flaws. He is the perfect partner for Wise to bounce off of, as both hold their own.
Saheem Ali’s direction is a little slow and more dreamlike than immediate. Arnulfo Maldonado’s set and David Weiner’s lighting set the time and space, but it is Alex Basco Koch’s projections that let us know the tone.
Love’s play has a lot to say and though the sequences in which things happen don’t always make sense, she does reach our heart with her message. We all need to fly free.
Firefliesis at the Atlantic Theater Company (Linda Gross Theater), NYC, until November 11.