|Tracy Michelle Hughes and Rhonda J. Soikowski in Bright Half Life (MJ Sieber)|
Bright Half Life
New Century Theatre Company and The Hansberry Project
Through March 11, 2017
How does one get at the interior of a romantic relationship on stage? In the case of Bright Half Life, now presented by New Century Theatre Company and The Hansberry Project, playwright Tanya Barfield chose to throw ordinary women in ordinary moments together into a mixed-up time machine of a stew. Directed by HATLO, actors Tracy Michelle Hughes and Rhonda J. Soikowski portray a lesbian relationship that bounces (sometimes literally) from future to past to present to past in a seemingly random fashion.
The audience can’t just sit and let this play wash over them for a moment. You must come ready to engage. In scenes that might last two sentences before a change of time and place, you can witness the first meeting of this couple, their awkward supervisor-employee attraction, their acceptance of their connection, and all the way through having children and growing older.
If you pay attention, you learn about these characters. You learn that Vicky is very organized and an early-bird, yet loves ferris wheels and even sky-diving. Erica is scared of heights, yet not scared of asking Vicky out. Their relationship tangles over promotions and job offers. Their extended families interfere.
Hughes and Soikowski are both top-notch actors. They must be to manage material this complex and non-linear. They have to keep all the aspects of their relationship, from beginning to end, in mind at all times, and then inhabit the right moment with the correct emotional attitude. Since the play rushes by non-stop for about 80 minutes, and scenes can be 30 seconds long, this is a feat in itself. I appreciate them both, individually.
I have to say that they are so oddly matched that “chemistry” isn’t exactly a word that would describe what they have together. The characters in the play seem to be oddly matched, so in that way, their casting does make sense. But it was hard to buy them as a couple, and I am not sure why. Perhaps so much of the play is spent in opposition that it becomes hard to believe the good-relationship moments when they appear.
The set (by Catherine Cornell) is a mountain of interesting platforms jutting out, like a huge stairway. The actors climb around with no props or other changes. This is reminiscent of solo performances where actors change characters with a turn of a head. The lighting design by Jessica Trundy does help a great deal in focusing time and place with spotlighting or brief blackouts.
The play is certainly a way to tell the story of a fairly ordinary relationship in an extraordinary way. It may speak to individual audience members very differently depending on their life experiences. That makes it more like a poem, in the eyes of the beholder.