By Daniel Skora
All too often, the reason given by people who have difficulty understanding gay/lesbian relationships is that they believe that the dictates of gender will allow for little, if any, of those unique distinctions that make a good union possible. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, a woman is a woman is a woman. One of the takeaways in “Bright Half Life”, the current presentation of Ann Arbor’s Theatre Nova, is that opposites do exist and will attract, even in couples of the same sex.
Vicky (Breon Canady) is a professional woman. She has gotten where she is because she is analytic, meticulous, and resolute. She is also open to new experiences, like skydiving. Erica (Alysia Kolascz) is one of Vicky’s hires. She is emotional, worrisome, and indecisive. She is also fearful and has to be coaxed into trying new things. After the usual sparing that lovers often do to establish their parameters, they begin a twenty-five year relationship where their union becomes as strong and as personally rewarding as any heterosexual one. But just as relationships of any kind often fall apart, Vicky and Erica won’t live happily ever after nor till death do them part.
Vicky and Erica’s relationship unfolds to the audience as memories often do, in bits and pieces and in no chronological order. Imagine, if you will, a box of photographs of someone’s life, and the box, having spilt to the floor, now requires that the photographs be looked at in a haphazard fashion. “Bright Half Life” proceeds in just such a manner, and while it takes a little getting used to, once you realize that you’re being given, piece by piece, the makings of a puzzle, and it’s up to you to fit them all together, the exercise becomes an adventurous excursion into the lives of two lovely women who, through love and mutual respect, go on to complete each other.
Theatre Nova’s construct of Tanya Barfield’s romantic and intelligent play is a no frills production that places all of its emphasis on its two actresses and the characters they portray. Exceptional in their own right, Canady and Kolascz have great chemistry together. The play requires emotional and physical involvement, and the two appear entirely natural when handling both.
Moss Hart wrote this in “Act One”, a book about his early years spent learning the craft of theatre: “The best-directed play is the one in which the hand of the director remains unnoticed”. If that’s true, Daniel C. Walker is the best of directors. The show moves swiftly through 70 minutes of innumerable “scene” changes. The flow is effortless, a near-seamless dissemination of the pieces of the puzzle the author wants you to have.
Walker also serves as production designer and tech director. It’s a Spartan stage, set with only a bench and an office chair.
Two contrasting colors divide the stage, for it’s an Afro-American and a Caucasian whose lives are being played out. The colors meet to form silhouettes of two female faces, the empty space below forming a heart.
“Bright Half Life” is exceptional theatre, a thinking person’s play with heart, tenderness, and relevance to the way human relationships have changed in today’s world. Great things are happening at Theatre Nova. This is the fifth production of their inaugural season and every show has been a winner, with no dancing girls, no perfectly-pitched tenor, no live orchestra or expensively rendered flats, not even a curtain, actually. What they do are intelligent, entertaining, and thought provoking shows. The atmosphere of the theatre itself is rustic and authentic, the seating intimate and comfortable. If you have not yet made it to a show at The Yellow Barn, by all means find an open date on your calendar and pencil one in.
“Bright Half Life” runs through October 25th. For tickets and information, visit Theatre Nova’s website at www.theatrenova.org or call 734.635.8450. Theatre Nova is located in the Yellow Barn just off the road at 416 W. Huron Street in downtown Ann Arbor.