Tanya Barfield’s Bright Half Life is the story of a 40-year-long relationship, from the day Erika and Vicky meet until what well be the last elevator ride they share. Its chronology is shuffled, though, shown in what might be an associative manner–one fragment of conversation leading to another that happened years earlier or later. It was enormously well performed by two strong actresses on a simple set, supported by light and sound design that helped us follow the action forward and back in time. The play was fascinating for 60 of its 65 minutes, but my attention flagged in the homestretch. Since it was clear from early in the play that the relationship ends, late-in-the-play flashes to much-earlier moments diminished in impact. If there was a Crucial Moment that those late moments were supposed to illuminate, I missed it. This particular elevator ride didn’t seem important enough to be the Big Finish–certainly not paralleled with the skydiving scene that was interspersed with it. Or maybe I missed it.
Or maybe the point was to provoke discussion, which it did. We walked from City Center to Grand Central, considering the production and the play’s structure, the believability of the fictional characters’ relationship, and comparing them to couples we knew, and to us. (We came out favorably ahead, I am pleased to say.)
The last play we’d seen in that theatre was similarly fascinating–funny, creative, and thoughtful–until its last five minutes, when the writer or the director or somebody decided what the play needed was a truly weird finish, like a perfect Thanksgiving dinner where the pumpkin pie crust is made from beach sand and Vaseline.
Endings are hard, we agreed. So are beginnings and middles, for that matter, but especially endings. It’s that last image that stays, the one that lingers as you leave the theatre. Or the table: you can get the appetizers wrong and foul up the main dish, but a terrific dessert will save the day. We weren’t grumpy about Bright Half Life, not even unsettled, but unsatisfied.
We turned down 43rd St., and found Baskin-Robbins still open. We ordered chocolate milkshakes. Nothing too complicated, nothing weird. We got the ending right.