BWW Review: World Premiere of Homegrown FINISH LINE
A Documentary Play About the 2013 Boston Marathon
Co-Creators, Joey Frangieh & Lisa Rafferty; Directed by Joey Frangieh; Scenic & Lighting Designer, Jeff Adelberg; Costume Designer, Tyler Kinney; Sound Designer, David Remedios; Production Dramaturg, Bridget Kathleen O'Leary; Music Director, Doug Hammer; Associate Producer, Jo Williams; Stage Manager, Alycia Marucci; Original Music by Joey Frangieh; Orchestrations by Doug Hammer, Nile Hawver, and Nate Tucker
Performances through March 26 presented by the Boch Center in association with Boston Theater Company at the Shubert Theatre, 265 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 866-348-9738 or www.bochcenter.org
On April 15, 2013, two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three, injuring hundreds of people, and imprinting the date and event on the minds of millions who will always remember where they were at the time. Like the assassination of JFK, the disintegration of the Space Shuttle Challenger, and September 11th, the 2013 Marathon was inscribed in the annals of tragic milestones in American history. Now there is a homegrown documentary theatrical production co-created by Joey Frangieh (Artistic Director of Boston Theater Company) and Lisa Rafferty (director/playwright/producer/educator) that brings the story to the stage in association with the Boch Center at the Shubert Theatre.
In an unusual and welcome twist, Finish Line eschews any mention of the perpetrators of the terrorist act, choosing instead to focus on the people whose lives were impacted by the bombings, allowing them to be heard with their own words spoken by a dozen actors who represent survivors, runners, doctors, rescuers, and media. Frangieh, Rafferty, and Dramaturg Bridget Kathleen O'Leary compiled their script from interviews with 94 individuals, ultimately choosing 14 whose stories are told in depth. Taking the stage one at a time, or in small groups, each is given their due, their firsthand accounts treated with dignity and compassion. Although the play runs a mere 90 minutes, nothing feels rushed or abridged. Great care has been taken to frame Finish Line as a love letter to the Boston Marathon, the City of Boston, and her people. With that metaphor in mind, I am going to craft my review in the form of a response to their beautiful missive.
Dear Joey, Lisa, and all members of the Finish Line community,
First and foremost, you have shown yourselves to be a community, joining together in fellowship with each other and the community at large to produce this important, thoughtful piece of theater. Your goal has always been to focus on the heroes, not the villains; the good, not the evil; and, by emphasizing stories of love and resilience, to be an instrument for healing. You have achieved all of this and more, illustrating that it takes a village of ordinary individuals to accomplish extraordinary things. It is one of the lessons from your play, as well as one of the lessons of April 15, 2013, in the City of Boston. As the voices on the stage reiterate, one after another, it was the goodness and kindness of so many people who rose to the occasion on that day that was responsible for deriving order out of chaos and establishing connections between strangers that continue to reap benefits.
Joey, as the director you are the guiding light that shines on the production as a whole, and you have a stellar ensemble of selfless actors who give themselves to their characterizations without ego. Two of the Boston theater community's finest stage veterans show their expertise as Karen MacDonald gives a stunning portrayal of Liz Norden, the fiercely protective mother of two sons seriously wounded in the crowd, and Paula Plum inhabits the pain and guilt of another mother, as well as the gut-wrenching choice faced by local newswoman Maria Stephanos - trying to be both a mother and a reporter at once. Danny Bolton conveys Boston Globe photographer John Tlumacki's struggle with his obligation to chronicle the disaster versus his personal discomfort with the bloodshed and invading the privacy of the victims.
Sam Tanabe takes the stage alone as Brad Jensen, a teacher and runner who tells about his journey during the race, his embarrassment when his mother joins him for the final six miles and proudly yells out to everyone that he is her son, and their subsequent feelings of shame for not helping after the explosions. His monologue is delivered with personality and realistic emotions, reminiscent of Paul in A Chorus Line relating the story of his parents finding out that he was dancing as a drag queen. Similar raw emotions are evident in Greg Maraio's portrayal of EMT Harry McEnerny as he discovers his fears, but pushes through them to do his job.
Each member of the cast reflects the light that you shine on them, Joey, and smoothly steps forward in turn, as if accepting the baton in a relay race. Ed Hoopman, Tonasia Jones, Amie Lytle, Omar Robinson, Katy Sullivan, and Lewis D. Wheeler give fully realized performances deserving of more than a mention. The twelfth player on the stage is Rachel Belleman, the singer whose sweet, clear voice delivers the one song, "Rise," that you wrote for the uplifting conclusion of the show. (Gigi Watson alternates as the singer at some performances.) Your team of designers (Jeff Adelberg, scenic & lighting; Tyler Kinney, costume; David Remedios, sound) chooses simplicity to allow the focus to remain on the speakers and their words, but the impact of 1100 bare light bulbs hanging in front of a black backdrop is quietly profound, especially when they dim and brighten to heighten the drama inherent in the monologues.
Your instinct to take Finish Line in a positive direction, relating the stories of selflessness and generosity of spirit, was on the mark. As much as these individuals tell of the horror and tragedy of the day, they tell us more about the resilience they exhibited in their recoveries, the things they gained from the life-changing events, and, to a person, about the spirit of the Boston Marathon and the people of the City of Boston. As a member of the audience, it filled me with pride and gratitude to be some small part of the community where this all took place, and to live among people like you who worked so hard to share their stories with the utmost care and dignity. Congratulations for a race well run and breaking the tape of your own finish line.
With best regards,