“God Bridge” by Youngblood Theatre
Review: God Bridge by Benjamin James Wilson
Shows: July 24th – August 2nd
Director: Lillian Tillson
Produced: Youngblood Theatre Company
Features: Michael Cotey, Max Hultquist, Daniel Koester, Robyn Starkey, Lineve Thurman, Jason Waszak, and Katie Beth Whittaker.
Runs: 90 minutes with no intermission
If live theater is about taking risks, then the third summer offering from the upstart Youngblood Theatre Company has met that challenge with verve and tenacity. God Bridge is not only a new work by a young playwright, it is a bold undertaking for the young actors in the play as well. By taking on a drama steeped in the thickest of conflict while saying something about common resonance, the members of Youngblood deserve applause.
In the story, staged at the UWM-affiliated Kenilworth Studio, Mark and Arianna are a young couple looking for Arianna’s son. It’s unclear how long the boy has been gone, but the desperation to find him seems to have reached a critical mass. Arianna is sure her son is somewhere around a particular bridge where homeless and schizophrenic young people with strange agendas lurk. Mark and Arianna become enveloped by the homeless people’s world under some duress. After awhile, the search for a child becomes only an exploited plot point and gives way to something larger– something greater and more universal. God Bridge examines how an untenable crisis can change our perception of who and what we see before us. In the case of the protagonists, the homeless bridge dwellers become a source of understanding in an incomprehensible situation.
The Youngblood production itself suffers from a bit of duality. Although engaging through its performances, the script is lacking. Though bold and different, the dense text prevents characters from being accessible or successful in soliciting any sympathy. It borders on absurdism at times but the realistic search of the couple prevents it from being an absurdist play. Moreover, there’s not enough information about any of the characters to make it a realistic drama. The two homeless young men Arianna and Mark first meet, stripped of all identity, are named only I and II. Their interactions, fast and furious, keep us focused but it’s like dessert without a prior meal.
The cast members commit fully to their roles involving their whole being in the characters. Standout performances include Robin Starkey as Ariana and Katie Beth Whittaker as playful young woman on a quest for love named Diana. Whittaker makes her sometimes ridiculous actions seem honest and true while Starkey is wholly believable as the desperate young mother. She reacts in the only way someone could given her circumstances.
Technically, the show meets skilled standards. The set is somewhat distractingly imbued with graffiti but still creates a realistic tone. The lighting design is smooth and appropriately invisible, complementing the action. A nice effect comes from Seth Warren-Crow’s sound design, as the conflict on stage is subtlety heightened by the divine sounds of birds and the flow of a river.
God Bridge continues at the Kenilworth Studio 508 through August 2, 2009. The small seating area dictates that you make a reservation to see it. Call the UWM Peck School of the Arts box office at 414.229.4308 for more information or see Youngblood’s website.