Review: 'Bright Half Life' at WaterTower Theatre
Rachel Elizabeth Khoriander
- OnStage Texas Critic
- Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The simplest relationships can be surprisingly complex when multiple viewpoints must coexist. Bright Half Life chronicles the romance between two women, Erica and Vicky, and the transforming moments that circumscribe their relationship and marriage. The play deviates from a typical linear structure, moving backward and forward in time to show its characters and the story of their love in bursts of connected segments that illustrate all the things that keep them together and all the things that tear them apart. While the lack of chronology can be a bit difficult to decipher at first, once your mind adjusts, the obvious similarities to the way we sift through memory when we find ourselves at a relationship crossroads and begin wondering how we got there make the lack of chronology a powerful device.
Developed during residency at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwright’s Conference in 2014, Tanya Barfield’s Bright Half Life is a relative newcomer to the stage, premiering at The Women’s Project Theater in NYC last February. Playwright Tanya Barfield is a 2007 Pulitzer Prize nominee and the assembled artistic and technical team for the NYC run of Bright Half Life included some of the most active names in theater, which should give you an idea of the level of interest the play engendered.
Because the play runs 75 minutes long with no intermission and both characters continuously share the stage, the roles require actors with stamina, superb timing, and palpable chemistry. Kelsey Leigh Ervi and Kenneisha Thompson, who embody the roles of Erica and Vicky at WaterTower, are strong in all of these. Kenneisha Thompson, as Vicky, masterfully shifts gears between segments with intensity. When a time-switch is occasionally confusing, we are often able to regain our footing based on small changes in Thompson’s delivery and body language, which change as Vicky ages. Throughout her performance, Thompson emphasizes Vicky’s ambivalence toward relationships, but her Vicky is not flighty or uncommitted. Rather, she is so acutely sensitive to social politics in the world around her that she sometimes errs on the side of security. Thompson is an expert at mixing analysis and raw emotion, easily modulating her voice and facial expressions to instantly switch from one to another and illustrating how, over time, both take their toll on Vicky.
Kelsey Leigh Ervi plays Erica, a would-be writer and teacher, who appears to be a bit more adventurous in relationships than she is in other aspects of life. I admit that I am biased against Erica’s initial character type, so it surprised me when I found myself sympathizing with Erica later on, and I suspect Ervi is mostly to blame for making me re-evaluate similar individuals in my life. Although Erica could be accused of lacking follow-though and a harboring a childish inability to empathize, Ervi’s Erica is unfalteringly earnest and unflinchingly honest, which makes her hard to dislike; she seems simplistic, but has hidden complexity. Ervi is at her best when attempting to (often awkwardly) express how she feels about Vicky, whether at the office where they first meet or during a marriage proposal. And she has a particularly strong during physical scenes with Vicki, during which she reveals vulnerable tenderness.
Costume changes occur on stage and are minimal but effective. Each character has her own style; Vicky wears professional clothing with more traditionally feminine tailoring, while Erica dresses in jeans and a t-shirt with a more traditionally masculine button-down shirt and occasionally a blazer.
Costume changes are assisted through two coat racks placed at either side of the stage. The additional set, designed by Bradley Gray and Director Garret Storms, appears simple, yet is effective. It consists of a backdrop constructed of interlocking wooden blocks and embedded with a constellation of lights, and several minimalist wooden benches that the actors move to represent different locations—Vicky’s apartment, the office where they meet, an elevator, a Ferris wheel. At the end, the set reveals itself to be not quite so simplistic after all, which elegantly mirrors the subject matter of the play.
Shifts in time and emotion are indicated through subtle shifts in lighting, whether through gels and dimming, or small changes in the constellation of lights that form the backdrop of the play and the handful of lights dangling from the ceiling. Additional indicators of time changes occur through sound effects, with an occasional progression of chords again mirroring the play’s content. Given the small space and excellent vocal projection of the actors, microphones are not required.
One of the questions asked throughout Bright Half Life is, “Knowing what you know now, would you do it all over again?” As relates to seeing WaterTower’s production of the play, my response is a resounding yes. Bright Half Life takes advantage of the dream-like jumps that sense memory imparts on our interpretation of our own experiences and invites us to apply them, which results in something fascinating: many people will have wildly differing conclusions after watching this play. It is this universal appeal and invitation to interpretation that make for a thought-provoking evening of theatre, and WaterTower’s production alluringly magnifies these.
BRIGHT HALF LIFE
WaterTower Theatre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison, TX 75001
Runs through June 12th.
Friday and Saturday at 8:00pm, with matinees on Sunday at 2:00pm. Additional performances on Thursday, May 26 at 7:30pm and Saturday, June 11 at 2pm.
Ticket prices for regular performances are $28.00. Tickets for the May 26th and June 11th performances are $22.00. Groups of 10 or more receive $3.00 off the cost of admission. Student rush tickets cost $12.00 and are available 15 minutes before curtain time (subject to availability).
For information and to purchase tickets, visit http://www.watertowertheatre.org/, or call the box office at 972-450-6232.