Whether you give the latest world premiere from Portland Stage the kind of “profound attention” it recommends or just choose to sit back and enjoy a charming new play, “The Half-Light” delivers.

In her second playwriting effort, Maine author Monica Wood has fashioned a sweet and sentimental amalgam of office politics, family drama and romantic comedy and tied it all together with poetic imagery and a shadowy mysticism. The play’s message warms the heart as its four likeable characters draw sympathy along with some uproarious laughs. It likely would fit comfortably into a smaller, more intimate venue. But, thanks to a little theater magic, “The Half-Light” enchants on the wide mainstage at Portland Stage.

The play concerns a college secretary named Iris who fears being labeled a “moonbat” as she seeks to develop her psychic skills and see “beyond the mortal veil.” Iris draws some skepticism from those around her, including her brassy co-worker Helen and a cheeky literature professor named Andrew.

When each of her cohorts experiences an extreme personal challenge, Iris is mysteriously drawn into a nether world between the living and the dead. Some visual effects and spooky music add to the tension. But, in author Wood’s vision, a gentle sense of hope is never far away.

Maggie Mason and Brent Askari

Maggie Mason takes the lead role and gives her Iris a kind of nerdy curiosity. She draws the audience into her character’s attempts to understand what haunts everyday people who are thrown into difficult situations. Mason conveys the sensitivity that Iris ultimately realizes is not necessarily so extraordinary.

Moira Driscoll provides major laughs as Helen, whose romantic advice to Iris serves to solidify their relationship. Driscoll manages the difficult task of making some abrupt turns from wisecracking office-mate to mom of an addicted daughter as the play progresses.


As Helen’s young daughter Teresa, Wilma Rivera needs just a few lines to take the show rather deep into the experience of addiction. She later adds a charge to scenes of recovery amid adults not always as mature as might be thought.

Wilma Rivera

Local favorite Brent Askari adds his usual waggish charm while also navigating his Andrew’s mid-play anguish. His romantic scenes with Mason are priceless.

The set design by Anita Stewart and lighting by Bryon Winn facilitate a toggling between the everyday and the ethereal that is essential to the story.

In an interview provided by Portland Stage, the play’s director Sally Wood (no relation to the author) has stated her view that Monica Wood’s creation “tells us about how the meek shall inherit the earth.” Her obviously affectionate direction maintains a corresponding tone in this entertaining and touching play.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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