Suddenly a spark. That’s an apt description of a firefly. It’s also pretty appropriate to describe the romantic theme of the play Fireflies. There is, after all, a reason why these otherwise invisible pinpricks of magic, who appear to us as the light of day changes, became the namesake for this Matthew Barber-composed work.
“Fireflies put on quite a show at the lake last night. You know what inspires them to do that?” Abel asks of Eleanor in the show. “It’s a mating dance,” responds the retired schoolteacher. And she’s right. It’s all about love. According to the Smithsonian Institute, amongst the species of fireflies that glow (fun fact: fireflies in the Western United States do not glow at all!), the males use their flashes to attract females. Each of these species even has their own unique pattern of flashing. So in a poetic sense when you’re watching fireflies, what you’re actually seeing for a split second here and there are sparks of hope for love, for connection.
When we meet Eleanor and Abel they are staring down the home stretch of their lives. In retrospect neither of them have had a particularly exciting journey, but they’ve contented themselves with the fact that they are set in their ways. Until that is they meet each other. As the light of each of their lives changes due to the presence of the other, they suddenly begin to see things they’d given up all hope of seeing. As director Gordon Edelstein puts it, “a new possibility arises, a possibility for love, a new excitement in their lives.” Like when seeing the flash of a firefly, they have to choose whether to chase after it into the unknown.