Bright Half Life is full portion of heart, reality and truth about relationships
If there is a universal human experience, it is that relationships are tough. Often, it is hard to be tethered even to someone you love and with whom you have children. Damn it! Love and family can be a slog.
In Bright Half-Life, Tanya Barfield’s two-woman play about lesbians who share a life together, now playing at Theatre Nova in Ann Arbor through October 25, the audience is privileged to see a poignant, well-delivered, beautifully acted chronicle of Erica (Alysia Kolascz) and Vicky (Breon Canady) from the time they met through dating, break-ups, sky-diving, ferris-wheel rides, proposals, temporary break-up, child birth, marriage, child rearing, career debacles and pending tragedy–all in approximately 70 minutes.
The structure of the play takes a little getting used to. We hear and watch the back-and-forth of Erica and Vicky, angry or tense over something going on in their lives, and then we get snapped back with them into a moment where they were on a plane about sky-dive. More banter, and then we are snapped back to a moment where Erica is terrified of the ferris-wheel ride they are riding. More banter. Snap back to a moment where their daughter was taking first steps. You get the idea. It is a relationship that lasts for some 25 years.
The set is minimal, consisting of a bench and a swivel chair. The two actors spend the vast majority of the play circling, talking face to face, pulling away, coming back to hug and nuzzle.
Vicky is a data analysis expert of some kind. Erica is a writer who teaches. They are yin and yan. They balance each other. Erica is high-strung and often anxious. Vicky steers their boat. One of the aspects of relationships so convincingly explored is the give and take and sacrifices that one-half of a married couple makes, or does not make, for the sake of the other or for the whole of the relationship. It also illuminates what happens when one partner’s personality dominates the other’s a bit too much. Barfield’s writing is especially good at covering these.
One of the aspects of a relationship that is wonderfully portrayed is that two people can still care deeply about one another even after they break up. It is the subject of an old Oprah episode, maybe, or a series of columns in HuffingtonPost Divorce about finding peace after break-up. But in the hands of the writer, this director and these two actors, the truth of that possibility becomes vivid. Meaningful relationships can evolve after a formal break-up if two people love, but can’t necessarily co-exist under the same roof or in the same set of priorities.
Kolascz and Canaday handle the material beautifully, so utterly embodying these two women that it hardly looks like acting at all; their performances validated in the lobby after the show by several sets of red eyes.
But don’t get the idea that the play is a downer. It’s just touching. It will strike nerves with many. Perhaps it will be just so much chick-lit to others, though that would be a tragic short-changing of the material and performances. But it will hit people differently and to different depths. In the program notes, director Daniel C. Walker makes a point of saying that despite the characters being lesbians, he was struck by how much the story paralleled his own life. Indeed, this is not a story about gay marriage, but marriage in general, common-law or otherwise. It’s the stuff of two people who commit to one another, and how hard that can be. Walker and these two very talented actors make the story real.
As an aside, and perhaps a needless one, Bright Half Life can also touchingly remind us that marriage is marriage. And whether gay or straight, everyone deserves to experience the love, frustrations, anger, heartbreak, joys and laughter that goes with forming a union and family. To deny anyone the primal desire to form family–that seems like the crime against nature.