Addison — It may have just been a coincidence in timing, but this spring, WaterTower Theatre has exhibited savvy programming by following a terrific staging of Dan LeFranc’s The Big Meal with a Discover Series studio production of Tanya Barfield’s Bright Half Life.
LeFranc’s play advanced 80 years and five generations of a family in a single location (a restaurant), with the characters being played by multiple actors as kids were born and grandparents died. Barfield’s script spans 46 years (1985-2031) of two characters through meeting, dating, marrying, having kids and, well, being human.
Like LeFranc’s play, what takes Barfield’s script to the next level is witty architecture. So many contemporary plays are written with about a dozen scenes over 80 intermissionless minutes, often with each scene in a different location, that are too often performed with momentum-killing scene changes.
Bright Half Life, directed by Garret Storms, has about four times that many scenes, but no obvious scene changes, only with minimal set and costume additions. The stage directions command “No props. No pantomime. No projection.” There are also no blackouts, only subtle lighting (by Luke Atkison) to denote “temporal changes” rather than pauses.
Erica (Kelsey Leigh Ervi) and Vicky (Kenneisha Thompson) meet when Erica is a temp in Vicky’s office, and the action progresses rapidly from there, with conversations in elevators, restaurants, cubicles and many other locations that are usually suggested in the dialogue. Jumping, as in taking a leap of faith (in love and life), is a recurring metaphor. Sometimes it’s a daredevil plunge, other times a mental hop.
On paper it sounds as if constantly pushing the thrust button would limit accessibility to the characters and anything resembling deep, human emotion, but it’s there. Storms’ pacing is appropriately quick but thoughtful, and Ervi and Thompson time- and space-jump while remembering to breathe and honoring the playwrights’ characters, who grow, change and love, if at times reluctantly. Hello, life.
Erica is a romantic from the beginning; and Vicky, early on, informs that when it comes to her identity, she is black first, woman second, gay third. Yes, this play is about an interracial, lesbian couple.
They’re also all of us. Reminders that in the crazy ride of adulthood, it’s OK to pull the ripcord and jump.