Monday, July 02, 2007

A Narrow Bridge

Poorly written and performed ‘A NARROW BRIDGE’ at Bang and Clatter

You have to give a lot of credit to Bang and Clatter, the Akron-based theatre that has a goal of doing world and local premieres, such as their present offering, Clevelander Cliff Hershman’s ‘A NARROW BRIDGE.’

But, as much as the Seans (producers Derry and McConaha) deserve credit for their dedication to helping expose the audience to new material, they also need to make wise choices. “A NARROW BRIDGE’ is a case-in-point.

Hershman, in spite of dedication and a valiant try, doesn’t seem to have the playwriting skills to pull off the needed natural dialogue, development of exposition, and built in motivation for the actors to develop their characters. He doesn’t make us care about the people he is writing about. The script shows a strong need for a good dramaturg to work with the writer to develop the material.

As reflected by actions of the second night-of-the-run audience, the play fails to captivate. There was no applause at the intermission, the sold-out audience thinned after intermission, and the curtain call was met with polite, if unenthusiastic applause.

The story centers on yet another dysfunctional family. This one, a Toledo, Ohio unit, presents Blue, a man who has been a failure most of his life and is out to scam his second-wife, Edie, out of the value of her house. Edie is an insecure woman who was abandoned by her previous husband, and has only the house she salvaged out of the divorce. Her junior high school daughter (Kim) is being seduced by her step-father as part of his plan to get the youngster to convince her mother to sign loan papers which will allow Blue to grab the dough and run. The final member of the group is Willy, Blue’s drugged-out son from a previous marriage who has returned, for no explicable reason, from wandering in the desert where he has “faced the void.” (I’m not sure what that means, but at one point in the production a character asked about the “meaning of meaning.” Someone in the audience, after having hearing the phrase expressed more than a dozen times, yelled, out, “It’s all about the void, man.” It got the biggest reaction of the night.)

Hershman knows no bounds when it comes to psychological problems and has stacked them high in the script. Bulimia, drug and alcohol use, emotional avoidance, drug addiction, absent-father syndrome, abandonment, depression, incest and sexual depravity are only some of the deviances glanced over.

The writing style leaves the actors at bay. The cast seemed confused about their characters’ identities. The motivations behind the character’s actions were often not developed.

The over-all effect was four weak performances and little audience empathy. The cause? Part script, part talent, part directing.

Chuck Simon showed no understanding of the motivations behind the role of Blue. The idea development of his lines was generally missing. In addition, he stumbled over lines and overlapped some of his speeches with those of other cast members.

Ann McEvoy (Edie) valiantly tried to create the mother role, but she, too, was thwarted by the writing.

Jennifer Hoffman (Kim), was too old for the role of a junior high student, and was unconvincing in her portrayal.

Even Ton Weaver, a B&C favorite who has shown he is a fine actor, failed to develop a clear characterization.

The set added to the chaos. A back wall served as a divider/stairway for three different rooms and the house’s entrance. Actors kept ducking in-and-out behind the wall, making for chaos as to where they were or where they were going.

Some questionable directing decisions were made by Sean McConaha. When Kim turned on a set of personal headphones, the audience could hear the music...why? When, in the final scene, a car speeds away from the house, we hear the car. This is the only time we hear outside noises. And, people walked through “locked” doors.

Capsule judgement: During “A NARROW BRIDGE’ one of the characters stated, “I’m sorry you had to see this.” A person sitting next to me moaned, “Yep!” Unfortunately, there is little that I can conjure up to encourage the reader to attend this production other than to say that you get all the free wine and beer you want before the opening curtain and at intermission. Too bad I’m not a drinker. it might have helped.