This article was originally published in BU Today on April 18, 2019. By Joel Brown.
If you’re familiar with the paintings of Edward Hopper, movement probably isn’t the first word they bring to mind. Even the ones with people in them have a static quality, as they stare out a window or into their coffee. But Yo-EL Cassell doesn’t see things the way most of us do.
His movement theater piece Sunlight Interior arises from Hopper’s paintings, which Cassell has long loved. But he takes the feelings they inspire in him and goes somewhere else entirely.
“The Hopper paintings embrace light, how light comes from behind, above, and around,” says the College of Fine Arts assistant professor of movement, who conceived and directs the show, presented by his InMotion Theatre Thursday through Sunday, April 18 to 21, in CFA’s Studio ONE.
Cast members double in various roles and even in the ensemble, playing characters you’ll remember if you know Hopper’s work, including the Usher and the Nighthawks.
“The characters you may see in a Hopper painting—what if they stepped into the light, what would that story mean?” Cassell asks. “And I thought that story might be a lot like the work of Magritte, the office worker who yearns to fly, or the dreamer who yearns to be a butterfly. They’re embracing their inner light.”
In part that’s why he also pulls the imagery of the surrealist painter Rene Magritte into this physical theater production. Cassell is something of an magpie; he collects disparate elements into the artistic nests he makes for himself. Sunlight Interior is the companion piece to a 2005 production, Moonlight Interior, he staged in New York, and in it, besides the two painters, he is pulling inspiration from the Wim Wenders film Wings of Desire and the Harry Chapin song “Mr. Tanner,” about a barber who closes his shop at night and sings to himself and feels whole.
“The song has become sort of the role model for these separate but relatable vignettes that support each other and kind of overlap, that celebrate what it means to step into the light, to embrace your inner light even if it’s dangerous, sensual, exciting, and joyful,” Cassell says.
As he put it in a short essay about the project: “What if we as individuals had the chance to embrace our inner light or sunlight interior—our passions, vulnerabilities, and desires? What would happen when we actually step into the light to embody a life that seems so attainable but inaccessible?”