In 2011, American Theater Company produced Dan LeFranc’s The Big Meal, which went on to win the Jeff Award for Best Ensemble. LeFranc has followed up that success with Bruise Easy, which had its world premiere at ATC this week. Sadly, this production does not live up to the anticipation.
The story revolves around a brother, Alec, and a sister, Tess. The entire play takes place in the driveway of the home that Alec shares with their mother in southern California (we learn that Tess moved to Colorado with their father after the parents’ acrimonious divorce). For a reason unknown to the audience, Tess has come to California to see her mother but finds only her brother at home, sitting in the driveway. The mother never does come home, and the siblings are left to untangle their complicated relationship strained by years of separation and misunderstandings stemming from the divorce.
This 70-minute play takes some of its cues from ancient Greek tragedies, such as the use of a chorus in which its members wear masks and speak in unison and whose purpose is to provide the audience with additional insight into the characters, plot, and themes. In this instance, the chorus is made up of neighborhood kids who watch the tragedy of this family dynamic unfold on a cracked driveway in front of a faded garage door.
The playwright seems to be a big fan of long pauses, because they occur numerous times throughout this play. When used judiciously and correctly, they can be quite effective. Here, however, they end up being rather boring, because there is little dramatic tension in the pauses, especially in the first part of the play before there is any build-up of intensity (which never really appears until the last minutes). Rather than the pauses underscoring a sense of anxiety, they are often little more than somewhat uncomfortable silences that leave the audience wondering when they will end.
In a tragedy, it’s important for the audience to care about what happens to the characters, in spite of their shortcomings. Unfortunately, in this play, that never really happens. The disjointed dialogue and overall lackluster feeling make it difficult to establish a connection with the characters. Ultimately, you’re left not really caring what happens to the characters or why they became the messed-up individuals they are.
There are things that occur in this play that don’t make sense because not enough information is given to the audience to understand them within the proper context. As a consequence, some of the dialogue and actions leave the audience to wonder how they got from point A to point B.
The play is very dark, showing an obviously disturbed and dysfunctional family as revealed through the two siblings. It touches on some pretty intense topics, and it has the potential to be a riveting play that looks at some unfortunate themes of modern American life, but, ultimately, the play just doesn’t draw you in or make you care about either the characters or the outcome.
It does get better in the last 15 minutes or so. There is some strong tension in the vivid fight scene between the siblings (nicely choreographed by Dave Gonzalez), and the monologue at the end by one of the neighborhood kids provides a bridge between the story and its overarching theme, but with such a serious topic, I expected to see this kind of tension and philosophical undertone throughout the play, and, in that regard, it comes up short.
A final note: This play is definitely not for minors because of explicit sexual dialogue and sexual activity between the siblings.
My articles can be found at http://byteclay.com/cultural-events-in-chicago/donna-robertson in the Chicago edition of byteclay.com. If you want to be notified when upcoming cultural events are published, click on “Subscribe to Author” below. You can also follow me on Facebook on the “Chicago Cultural Events” and “Cultural Events in Chicago” community pages.