Triad Stage‘s world premiere musical Radiunt Abundunt is a rare theatrical event that comes once every decade: a near-religious experience. It asks the question, “What do we talk about when we talk about Art?” Through the course of the production we learned that the answer (and Art itself) cannot be boiled down to a complete sentence; it is an experience to be seen and felt.

Radiunt Abundunt is the title of the picture that lies at the heart of this play. The picture is a two-dimensional, childlike drawing of a burning house that Zebulon College Art History Professor Karen Findley-Ives (the always incomparable Beth Ritson) describes as being the “most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life.”

Mother Radiunce (the profound Kate Goehring), the shorthaired recluse who, along with her recovering addict assistant named Sparrow Hawke (newcomer Lisa Kitchens in a deeply empathetic role), paints visions, what she calls “sermons,” about the end of the world. She lives in a mountaintop cabin called “The Valley” and is something of a prophet. It is hard for Mother Radiunce to see anything but those people found in her visions. God is calling her to action, she says. The reason is not so clear, but all she needs to do is create.

The “sermons” and Mother Radiunce’s claims of visiting angels and demons begin to obsess Karen. That is, until Mother Radiunce flees The Valley and winds up in the hospital, deemed mentally unstable by doctors. She is visited by her sister Scottie and daughter Grace Anne (the heartbreaking Dori Legg and Lizzie Wouters). Karen longs to bring Mother Radiunce’s paintings to the public eye where they can be better appreciated. Scottie wants her sister back to normal and Grace Anne just wants her mother to recognize her.

Radiunt Abundunt is the sixth collaboration between playwright/director Preston Lane and composer Laurelyn Dossett. The production values were all among Triad’s best. Anya Klepikov’s strikingly modern set was of particular note, as were Nicholas Hussong’s projections. Dossett’s compositions (performed by Dossett and the all-female group The Buck Stops Here) complement Lane’s dialogue with equally gorgeous musical poetry.

In previous Lane-Dossett collaborations, the stories existed to show, as Faulkner says, the human heart in conflict with itself. Themes of family, sin, and redemption have run through each of their works, but nowhere else are they more prevalent than in this play.

Radiunt Abundunt does not define its heroes and villains as clearly as other Lane-Dossett works. It’s monsters exist within each of the characters and often within their own heads and hearts. Characters are driven to be selfish heroes by doing what is best for themselves in order to restore equilibrium to their unbalanced lives. That is what the professor in the play does when she teaches, the mother when she just walks away from an argument, and the artist when she creates. Radiunt Abundunt may polarize audiences when its characters make such unsettling claims as, “If art doesn’t help me forget my miserable life, I don’t want to see it.” But the play also teaches that art is not only an escape, it is a portal into understanding.  

As a theatrical event, Radiunt Abundunt forces us to face our all-too-frequent inability to see beauty in the world. Whether it is in a painting or a play, the scope of life’s beauty can be found in our immediate feelings when we see a piece of art that speaks to us. Lane and Dossett have found their prophetic voice about the art we strive to create and the lives we attempt to understand.

Radiunt Abundunt continues through Sunday, March 13. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.