According to Julian Marsh, 42nd Street’s director extraordinaire, the most glorious words in the English language are “musical theater.” While I’m the last person to disagree with that, I’d like to offer up a few more for your consideration: “65 minutes, no intermission.”
Not to suggest that the brevity of Bright Half Life is its chief asset, but were Tanya Barfield’s play about an interracial, lesbian relationship to run even a few minutes longer, its considerable charms would feel even more strained, making it harder to overlook how featherweight a work it is.
The relationship of Erica (Kelly Chick) and Vicky (Lyndsay Allyn Cox) plays out unchronologically in short bursts of scenes, spanning over 40 years and touching on all the high highs and low lows, and all the mundane bouts of indigestion in between. From, “You’re so fucking beautiful,” to, “OK, I’ll sign the divorce papers,” the play beautifully and succinctly captures the giddiness of new love through the ache of goodbye. And for any of us who have been through it, it resonates heartily, though I wish that it cut a bit deeper and aimed just a tad higher.
Both Chick and Cox give great performances—Bright Half Life is a showpiece for two actors more than anything else—and director Megan Sandeberg-Zakian does a beautiful job of conjuring time, place, and phase of the relationship with zero costume changes and almost no set (what setting there is, by the ever indispensable Cristina Todesco, finally allows the Plaza Theatre to function as something other than an awkward dungeon).
While it is easy to appreciate the ways that Kelly Chick has to shoulder much of the heavy lifting—she’s the one who pursues Vicky to begin with, proposes (several times), gets sick on the Ferris wheel, and has a midlife crisis—most of my joy came from watching Lyndsay Allyn Cox, an actress I have always admired and could never quite take my eyes off. Between Caroline, or Change at Moonbox Productions, Barbeque at Lyric Stage, and Leftovers at Company One, Cox often exudes an unyielding strength that is always one beat shy of complete vulnerability. This is the best performance I’ve seen her give—she’ll be appearing in the Huntington’s Our Daughters, Like Pillars this spring—and Bright Half Life is, in many ways, her show.
What is less apparent is why Actors’ Shakespeare Project decided that this was one of the few non-Shakespeare (or Shakespeare-adjacent) plays that they needed to produce. While Bright Half Life feels a little too scant, the actors shoulder the burden well, and—at barely over an hour—it goes down easy. Even if there’s little aftertaste, at least there’s no indigestion.
BRIGHT HALF LIFE. THROUGH 2.16 AT ACTORS’ SHAKESPEARE PROJECT, 539 TREMONT ST., BOSTON. ACTORSSHAKESPEAREPROJECT.ORG