Imagine a theatre production. Now, remove the stage: the proscenium, the elevation, everything. Take away the costumes, the sets, the large cast. Now, finally, take away the theatre itself, until all that’s left is two actresses, and an audience. It’s here we find a kind of truth in intimacy, and it’s here that we begin with “Bright Half Life”, the latest production from Theatre en Bloc, the fractured story of one relationship told over the course of an all-too-short hour. During that time, however, we get a huge panoramic view of these people’s lives, starting from the first days of the relationship, all the way to these two women’s final days.
As the play begins, a handful of audience members sit in a tiny horse shed in the side yard of the Vortex theatre. Quarters are tight, the room at most 10 feet by 10 feet, with the audience seated along the walls, our two actresses sitting on the far side. As the play goes forward, these two actress use every inch of the space to show us, without sets, costumes, or make up changes, the lives of these two characters, a pair of lesbian lovers named Vicky and Erica. In the wrong hands, this entire exercise could be disastrous, but luckily, these two are charming and courageous, carrying out their fractured narrative with assured confidence, under the talented hand of director Jenny Lavery.
Writer Tanya Barfield has attempted in “Bright Half Life” to show us an entire relationship in the course of a but a blink of time. To do this, she fractures its narrative, placing the events of their lives in a non-linear order. This allows difference aspects of characters to unfold in intriguing ways, as time itself peels away at the characters’ layers, letting us, by the end, get an unflinching look at each aching pain and softness that the characters have to offer. These people may be strangers at the beginning of the story, but by the play’s end, the audience feels an intimacy with these characters that they wouldn’t have with their best friends.
Of course, our actresses certain help to tighten this relationship. The play depends entirely on the chemistry and Krysta Gonazales and Marina DeYoe-Pedraza, and luckily the two fit together like perfect molds. They give off a warmth and a charm that helps one relate to them early, and as we begin to see some of the darker sides of each of these characters, the two keep things grounded, never taking us out of the action. Sitting in such close proximity to the actresses tightens the bond, showing that director Jenny Lavery was smart in her staging, knowing that if the audience is forced to face the action head on, in close quarters, that its themes will resonate that much more palpably.
As spaces diminish for artistic expression in Austin, Theatre en Bloc proves that you need neither a big budget nor a huge space to produce true art, showing that an emotionally satisfying experience can be found, even in a room hardly bigger than the average bathroom. As long as we have companies like Theatre en Bloc blazing a trail in utilizing atypical spaces, there is hope that this community can survive its lack of space.
“Bright Half Life” runs through April 9th at Vortex Theatre. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit theatreenbloc.org.
Photo Courtesy of Theatre en Bloc