Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Bridge Club – by Richard Raskind

By Joe Straw

“I’m the one you read about when you Google ‘People who have survived jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge’.

 That leap was probably the most insincere thing I have ever done. But the Golden Gate Bridge was singing a song I couldn’t get out of my head and each note, each vibration from the cable was made from the bow that was pulling me in.

My life was at low tide and I truly believe that things weren’t going to get any better.  In fact, my problems were insurmountable, and it was going to get a lot worse.  So I flipped myself over the red rail to the ledge below. 

My tennis shoe was hanging over the edge, and, it’s funny, my only focus was on the tiny tear on the right side of my right shoe, and I concentrated on that little tear, for what seemed like hours, just that one little thing.  I heard nothing, felt nothing, and did not see the water.  I just stared at this tiny hole in my shoe which was a small symbolic reference to my tattered life. It was a concentration you would not believe.  

And then I jumped. And the moment I started falling, in that split second, I realized all of my problems were in fact solvable:  the bills, the mortgage, the contractor, my divorce (okay so maybe I couldn’t turn that around), but I was still falling and I couldn’t turn that around either.  And at this point there was no turning back. Still, falling, I prayed for a favorable outcome.” – The Lying Narrator  

Simon Productions presents the West Coast Premier production of The Bridge Club by Richard Raskind and directed by Mike Sabatino at the Deaf West Theatre in North Hollywood through May 13th, 2012.

A funny thing happened at the beginning of this show. Somehow, in the confusion, patrons started walking into the theatre and like lemmings everyone started to follow. And someone started shouting, “No, No, we are not seating yet.  Please, please, please, wait a few moments.” So we hustled ourselves back into the receiving room, waited a few moments, until the guy with the strong New York accent (Mike Sabatino, the director) said:  “Da theatur is now open.”  Boy did this set the mood.  

I don’t blame them for stopping us; everything needs to be right when entering the theatre.  And it is important to set that mood.  The mood and the lights on stage highlights the Golden Gate Bridge, which was symbolically and was wonderfully created and Designed by Dave Blass. The moon, upstage right, the lamppost, and the red color representing the structure that is the Golden Gate Bridge gave a serenity and loneliness that all worked beautifully.

The play starts with the song “If You Go Away” by Rod KcKuen.  It is based upon the French song “Ne me quitte Pas” written in 1959 by Jacques Brel.  It is a haunting melody from one lover telling another how much they’d be missed if they left.  The French version begs his lover not to leave. Either way, it is a sad song on a bridge where many people have hopelessly abandoned life and loved ones.

As the play starts, a well dressed man, Jack (Christopher Franciosa), wearing a long jacket, business attire, top shirt button undone, tie loosened, shirt tail out, walks along the pedestrian walkway at the end of aphotic day. His shoes brilliantly reflect the light of the moon and are not scuffed. Life, as it develops, could not appear better for this man who takes a nice quiet stroll on the Golden Gate Bridge.   

But there is something wrong.  Dramatically wrong.  And all Jack can do is quietly quote Mark Twain.    

“The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” – Mark Twain

And on this very cold night in November, Jack contemplates ending his life. It is a moment of terror that wakes him to the cold reality of his life. And as he looks across the waters of the bay, he symbolically sticks his big toe in to test the frigid waters.  After all, the bridge silently calls out to him, tempting him, wanting him to end his pain.  And yet Jack can’t force himself to do that which must come to all men.   

“Be a man!”  - Jack

Jack screams to himself alone on the bridge in one moment, and in the next, he diffuses the actions with a self-deprecating assessment of his situation.  But at least he gets it out of his system.  

He calls his girlfriend (Vesna Tolomanoska) and leaves a desperate voice mail that he loves her.  In so much emotional pain we find out that he has tumors, a recurrence, all over his body and that he has less than a year to live.  

He takes off his jacket and just when you think he is about to end it all he is interrupted by a surreptitious woman, Sue (Nancy Dobbs Owen), who seems to be out for a nice stroll, alone, and in the dead of night. She is, frightfully, a mess.  But she knows the circumstances of why they are both out there. And she would like him to leave.

“This is actually a private moment.” – Sue

This is not how Jack envisioned his last moments on earth and he wants her to skedaddle.  She is in fact ruining his glorious grandiose plans of ruin.  

“Maybe you should find some nice pills.” – Jack  

These two really don’t get along but they are like-minded folks who want to see how the other does it.  Sue says before he came, before she was to jump, she was completely naked, and he spoiled it all by showing up.

She tells him that he has much to live for unlike her who has been writing tons of bad checks and doesn’t want to spend another night in jail.  

They play a game of cat-and-mouse until she starts taking off her articles of clothing, coat, scarf, and dress and steps up to the ledge before he grabs her and pulls her back but this action is short lived as she eventually finds a way to throw her wrist up into the air and drops herself into the bay.

This isn’t exactly what Jack wanted. He is horrified. 

Unable to come to grips Jack is confronted by Harold (Shelly Kurtz), a Pecksniffian security guard who wants to know what Jack is doing on the bridge, late this night, alone. Harold moves closer, inches his way over to Jack, to make sure things are okay and when he is satisfied he leaves.

Jack is still not finished with his business when Sebastian (Andrew Villarreal) interrupts his depressive state of affairs but by this time Jack has caught on and The Bridge Club gig is up.

There are a lot of nice things in Richard Raskind’s play and the performers are very capable but on this night things may not have gone as smoothly as one would hope.  Still it was a very enjoyable evening and as always I have some comments.

Christopher Franciosa as Jack is strong, lithe, with a very nice look.  Still, as the character, he is there for a reason. That reason is ending it all on his terms, but we never get the feeling that he is going to jump. If we are to sympathize with this character, he should be on the other side of the bridge, hanging on for his precious life, and ready to commit the ultimate sacrifice. While he did a lot of good work, I wanted to see a stronger commitment to his objective, his past life, and a deep sense of caring for his fellow characters.  When he says: “This isn’t the first time I’ve had cancer!” this line should wake us up to the cold reality of that moment of his life.  

Nancy Dobbs Owen as Sue has a very provocative and powerful look and gave a very enjoyable performance. As the character she is there for a reason and she manages to achieve her objective.  She is there to stop him, to tell him, that he is loved, that “this” is not the way to end it. And as she compares her life, she tells him that writing bad checks and going to jail is the way to end.  How ironic that in the middle of all of this she is smoking a cigarette, half naked, on a cold wet slippery bridge asking him to grab her ass. A nudge over the edge, perhaps?

Shelly Kurtz as Harold did a fine job.  As the character he convinces Jack to think for a few minutes before he throws – well he knows, he just doesn’t say it. Kurtz caresses the character, a kindly man that cares.  It is a terrific performance with a hint of conflict.  A hint?  Okay, he needs to try harder to find the conflict in that scene.

Andrew Villarreal plays Sebastian, a kind of gay runner, on the bridge.  It is a bright-eyed funny performance that seems to delay Jack’s quest.

Vesna Tolomanoska as Ginny plays Jack’s girlfriend.  Her performance on this night didn’t have much urgency to it.  He’s never spoken to her this way.  She calls him without finding a truth from him. She knows something is wrong but doesn’t try hard enough. Get on that bridge and stop him!  (Metaphorically, of course.) She should be screaming “Ne me quitte pas! (Don’t leave me.)”, and at the top of her lungs, no less.

Mike Sabatino the director did a fine job in creating the fantastic overall feel of the play.  One couldn’t help but notice that on this particular night the actions stopped many times and once it stopped, the actors needed to work harder to engage the audience. Still there was enough here to keep it going throughout the night.  But there must be an overall through line from Sabatino’s vision.  This night, it was not clear.  Are they there to stop him?  Are they there to temp him?  Do they need new blood in the bridge club? (Maybe, I ask too many questions.)  Still, they all must work together to do one or all of those things and the actors seem to stop needing to do what they were intended to do during the second act.  And there must also be a decisive resolution. We must, in fact, know what Jack is feeling when he does what he does in the end.  

Richard Raskind the playwright wrote a lighthearted play about a depressing subject.  Still, there were a lot of jokes that were engaging and some nice one-liners.  Overall it was a very fun night and delightful in many ways. One can’t say too much without giving The Bridge Club away.  Raskind’s play tells us that Jack needs to live and love hard because he doesn’t have long. He needs to learn something about why he is there and to discover why these people were sent there to stop him.  There is a lot of truth to his words.

The sound Designed by Steve Shaw plays an important part in the entrance of the main character. There is nothing as lonely as one car door silently slamming shut.  

Consulting Producer - Racquel, Lehrman, Theatre Planners.  Casting Director  - Raul Clayton Staggs.  Publicist  - Nora Feldman. Set Construction  - Doug Jeffrey, 41 Sets. Lighting Designer - Peter Strauss. Stage Manager - Erinn O’Dear.  Technical Director - Adam Meyer.  Production Assistant - Angelique Scarpelli. Graphic Design - Kiff Scholl.  

Take a friend who’s depressed.  You’ll both feel better.  

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