Wednesday, April 13, 2011
The lights come up. A woman demands of an older man, "Say it!" Before we can fully consider what she wants him to say, the lights go down. When they come up again, the same woman is calling an older woman a bitch. But not just calling her a bitch. Instead, she spews forth a spoken aria on bitch-ness. After the lights go down and come up again, the woman's sister has joined them, dodging the woman's needy questions about their childhood as skillfully as a toreador dodges a charging bull. This pattern of lights down-lights up-new character continues until we have a whole family: mother, father, three daughters, one son. By the end of the hour we spend with them, we have experienced their lies, their pain, their denial, their betrayals, and even their love as they try to understand just what happened many years earlier.
Playwright debbie tucker green's elegant, pared-down Olivier Award-winning play Born Bad is a formidable achievement. The language is poetic and revealing, and green's acute understanding of family psychology allows her to parse the intricate relationships among the six complex characters. Director Leah C. Gardiner supports the play's elegance with her focused, stylized staging, using the juxtaposition of chairs to let the audience know just where the characters stand (or sit). Mimi Lien's simple, handsome set smartly reflects the mood and tone of the play, as does Michael Chybowski's lighting.
And then there is the cast. All six performers are superb. As Sister #1, Quincy Tyler Bernstine finds the comedy in the play without losing the tragedy. Crystal A. Dickinson (pictured) speaks with a mania that underlines Sister #2's deep desire not to listen. Elain Graham works hard to retain the mother's dignity even as it is stripped away, LeRoy James McClain (pictured) says few words as the father yet maintains a vivid presence, Michael Rogers' physicality as the brother says more than words ever could. And Heather Alicia Simms, as the sister who catalyzes the play, goes through a tornado of changing emotions without ever losing her way.
(Press ticket, fourth row on the aisle)