BWW Reviews: LA Premiere of Pulitzer Prize Finalist BULRUSHER Gets a Sturdy Mounting At Skylight
Bulrusher/written by Eisa Davis/directed by Nataki Garrett/Skylight Theatre/thru September 28, 2014
A trio of strong female performances anchor playwright Eisa Davis' Bulrusher; an intriguing story of a mixed-raced 18-year-old with psychic powers growing up in a predominantly white 1950s California town. Not that the three male performers slack in their acting talents. The males roles don't seem to be as fully developed as the women's. They're certainly not written to elicit any empathy.
Bianca Lemaire mesmerizes as the clairvoyant Bulrusher. Her wide-eye innocence and dazzling smile fill the theatre with Bulrusher's wonderment and enthusiasm. Heidi James's spot-on as the no-nonsense head of the town brothel, Madame (never 'madam') who runs her girls, and the men who partake, with an iron fist. No one steps out of line with her, especially since she's overcompensating for giving in to discounting frequent customer Logger (Joshua Wolf Coleman), one of her two more serious admirers (the other being Schoolch (Warren Davis)). The arrival of Vera into town jumpstarts the already brewing soap opera in Boonville. Obviously troubled upon her arrival, Vera keeps her guard up until she experiences Bulrusher, whose openness and positivity she has never encountered before in her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. Chauntae Pink vividly shows the stages of Vera's realization of Boonville's available equality in place of the segregation she grew up with. She's also puzzled by her curious attraction to Bulrusher.
As Logger, Madame's V.I.P., as well as Vera's relation; Coleman dominates the stage as the alpha male of the town, (second only to Madame). Schoolch though, as portrayed by Davis, remains a cipher throughout the two-and-a-hour drama. Bulrusher's guardian and the passive suitor of Madame, Schoolch's purpose seems solely to bring a sense of discipline and normalcy to both Bulrusher and Madame. As smoothly directed by Nataki Garrett, Schoolch's relationships to both Bulrusher or Madame could benefit from more clarity.
Patrick Cragin ably plays Boy, the country bumpkin who's vying for the charms of Bulrusher even though he previously participated in bullying her.
Kudos to Hana S. Kim for her efficient multi-purpose set, composed of uniform wood planked structures, that when separated or simply revolved, morphs into a bar, a fireplace, a window, a car. One of the best sets I have experienced in Los Angeles theatre, including the major equity houses. Complemented by Kim's video projections, David B. Marling's sound effects, and Derrick McDaniel's lighting design; one's easily transported onto a road trip through the rain, or splashing amidst the gentle ripples of the river, or sharing the fantasy world of Bulrusher and Vera.