The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Review | ‘Spells for Going Forth by Daylight’ is an impressive student production

Debuting at the University of Iowa’s New Play Festival, Master of Fine Arts candidate Leigh M. Marshall’s play reimagines the lives of historical figures such as Cleopatra and Julius Caesar.
Ava Neumaier
Cleo, played by Kathleen Marie Guerrero, gives her hand to the god Anubis, played by Olivia Foster, during a performance of Spells for Going Forth by Daylight at the UIowa Theatre Building on Monday, April 29, 2024. The play about Egyptian mythology and Greek history is a part of the IC New Play Festival.

I’ve always had a soft spot for anachronisms — modern sensibilities meshed with past periods — so naturally, I found a lot to love in University of Iowa Master of Fine Arts candidate Leigh M. Marshall’s new play, “Spells for Going Forth by Daylight.”

The main narrative consists of two threads that occasionally intersect; the first follows Cleopatra’s escapades in the Egyptian underworld, and the second follows Julius Caesar’s familial and political struggles, not least of which is the race against his opponent, Pompey.

All the while, scenes from the real world are broadcast to the realm of the dead as if through television, and Cleopatra must find a way to ensure that her empire isn’t tarnished.

Before the play even began, Marshall herself stepped onto the stage and encouraged the audience to react whenever they felt moved to do so, and this advice was heeded. Laughter and clapping consistently broke out whenever a particular moment called for it.

One notable element of this play was its choice to employ title cards. Every ten minutes or so, the screen behind the actors would light up prompting the name of a spell fit for the occasion, and the spell in question led into the narrative of the subsequent scene smoothly.

The production design was impressive, especially in the sets. It made use of minimal pieces that could be rearranged to fit any given scene, a clever mechanic of any stage production.

Despite these strong elements, the only qualms I have with the play lay in the story itself. It was often hard to follow, seemingly fighting between trying to be a series of vignettes or a cohesive whole, and as impressive as actors playing multiple characters is, this didn’t help with the confusion. I simply feel the emotional beats would have hit a lot harder if the story was easier to follow.

On that note, the scenes that were the most impactful for me were the ones that eschewed dialogue. There’s an old artistic principle that argues “less is more,” and I certainly felt that way about certain scenes in this play.

That being said, there was one line of dialogue that did resonate with me; it occurs when Cleopatra pleads with a bird to give her a spell that brings her back to life, and the bird responds, “You can live again, but you can’t be alive again.”

The scene moved on quickly, but I was left pondering that line for the rest of the show.

Speaking of the birds, they were easily my favorite character. For most of the play, they don’t speak, and the actor embodied bird-like tics and movements very well, again invoking the aforementioned “less is more” argument.

Overall, “Spells for Going Forth by Daylight” was an enjoyable play that I think the audience got a lot out of. I had minor misgivings, but I think Marshall’s writing shows a lot of promise.

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About the Contributors
Grant Darnell, Arts Reporter
Grant Darnell is a second year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in English and Creative Writing and Screenwriting Arts. He is currently an Arts Reporter for the Daily Iowan.
Ava Neumaier
Ava Neumaier, Photojournalist
Ava Neumaier is a first-year student at the University of Iowa, majoring in English & Creative Writing. She was the Editor-in-Chief of her high school yearbook in New York, and has interned for a New York Times photographer. She enjoys taking pictures of performances and student life.