March 7, 2015

"Bright Half Life" is Only Partly Satisfying

Everyone seems to be fracturing narratives these days, from the low-brow antics of TV’s “How to Get Away With Murder” to the high-brow musings in Kate Atkinson’s metaphysical novel “Life After Life.” Onstage, we’ve recently had the dual plot lines in the musical If/Then and the do-overs in the romantic Constellations, both scheduled to end their runs later this month. And now comes Bright Half Life, a kaleidoscopic view of a 25-year relationship that's playing in a Women’s Project Theater production at City Center’s Stage II.

The relationship is between Erica and Vicky, two women who meet cute, fall in love and, despite obstacles unique to them (Erica is white, totally out of the closet but socially timid; Vicky is black, less open with family and friends but otherwise bold) try to build a life together that is filled with tensions familiar to almost everyone who’s been in a long-term relationship (competing careers, contrasting libidos. the distracting task of raising kids).

Playwright Tanya Barfield tries to cram all of that into 65 minutes. And with the help of Leigh Silverman’s smart direction (click here to read about their collaboration) and two excellent performances from Rebecca Henderson as Erica and Rachael Holmes as Vicky, she almost pulls it off.

The women she’s created are finely etched. Her writing is witty and yet-natural sounding. But because the story is told non-sequentially, with rapid-fire jumps back and forth over the decades, it all felt more like clues in a treasure hunt and I found myself spending more time figuring out where each micro-scene fit into the storyline than on its emotional arc. 

Sometimes fragments, even those as nicely-rendered as the ones in Bright Half Life, just aren’t enough.

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