By Pat Launer
Some scenes only last a line or two. Some may go on for five minutes or so.
In Tanya Barfield’s “Bright Half Life,” an extremely episodic, time-shifting chronicle of a long-term relationship, the setting and life-stage change with neck-snapping speed. Conversations and topics circle around and reappear, sometimes verbatim, sometimes picking up where they left off or in the moment before. It’s imaginative and inventive, but even just 75 minutes of this structure grows wearisome.
What becomes clear is that the ups and downs, approaches and avoidances, fears and fun times, courtship, breakups, marriage, kids and confrontation of mortality in a relationship are remarkably similar, regardless of sexuality or race. This one just happens to belong to two women – one white, one black.
Diversionary Theatre’s production, tautly directed by Lydia Fort, features Rin Ehlers Sheldon as Erica, more aggressive in the getting together (though she is subordinate to Vicky at work), and more lost and uncertain later on. She’s also acrophobic, but in the name of love, she not only goes on a ferris wheel (totally terrified) but agrees to try skydiving.
Vicky (Bri Giger), more controlled and controlling, is the more work-stable and sensible, if a bit compulsive and judgmental. She’s fearful of being seen in public with Erica or being honest about their relationship to her staid African-American parents.
Snippets of conversation at first make little sense, till they’re re-presented with additional context. This conceit is obviously an enormous challenge for actors; it’s like an hour of non-sequiturs, especially in the rapid-fire pace Fort has wisely established.
Sheldon and Giger hold their own with vigor and energy, though their sexual encounters aren’t credible (or sexy), and they don’t seem much changed in their later years. There’s a suggestion in the text that one is more ‘femme’, one more ‘butch’ than the other, but this isn’t reflected in their costumes or demeanor.
The set (Kristen Flores) is aptly uncomplicated, with an expansive sky that becomes beautifully speckled with stars (lighting by Sherrice Mojgani). Composer/sound designer Blair Nelson makes excellent use of environmental noises to help mark scene boundaries, along with lighting variations and changes in the actor’s position or body posture.
The play is an intriguing, if not profound, portrait of a fiery relationship — dispensed in jigsaw pieces that the observer must assemble to get the whole picture. It’s a stylistic exercise that isn’t as insightful as it could be (what exactly do we learn about this relationship – or about relationships in general?), though it’s fun to watch the story unspool and reconfigure.
- “Bright Half Life” runs through Nov. 29 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd. in University Heights
- Performances are Thursday at 7 p.m. (except Thanksgiving Day); Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m.
- Backstage Thursdays: Designer Spotlight Reception Nov. 12 at 6 p.m.; Happy Hour with the Director: Nov. 19 at 6 p.m.; ASL Performance Nov. 22 at 2p.m.
- Tickets ($15-$40) are available at 619-220-0097 or online at diversionary.org
Pat Launer is a long-time San Diego arts writer and an Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of her previews and reviews can be found at www.patteproductions.com.
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