BWW Reviews: The Bridge Initiative Presents ANATOMY OF A HUG
(Since its launch in January 2015, as a result of an Art Tank grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, The Bridge Initiative's efforts to promote the work of female theatre artists have been celebrated by local and national media outlets. Its mission includes bridging the gap between academia and the professional world to encourage students to envision a clearer path to becoming lifelong artists.)
Given its sharp thematic edge and biting dialogue, it is no wonder that Ms. Ramsburg's work was recognized by TBI as Best Play in its national competition.
It is a gripping statement about the emotional miles that can divide the human heart and the role that a mere hug can play in bridging the chasm of unfulfilled dreams and expectations.
Ms. Ramsburg rips into the heart of a soul's darkness and the plight of a young woman whose abandonment has made her feel disposable, who has been denied the influence of a woman to help her define herself as a woman, and who suspends her rage by escaping into episodes of Punky Brewster and Murphy Brown. She rejects defeat as an option, however, and reveals a path to the soul's liberation.
Allison Sell, highly regarded for her brilliant turns in Shakespearean drama, is the sharp knife of this play, relentlessly wielding her blade at anyone who intrudes upon the fiction she has created for herself. Her performance is riveting; her revealed pain is so intense as to demand a bear hug from the audience, which, in due course, she must and will receive at play's end.
The bridge between fiction and reality is paved with illusions, heartbreaks, and periodic flashes of insight. The purveyor of the former is television to whose imitations of life many a viewer succumbs.
If you're impressionable and overload on the stuff of TV, you may manage to immunize yourself from the risks and pains of the real world ~ at least, for a while. Amelia (Allison Sell), the caretaking but beleaguered daughter in Anatomy of a Hug, is one such subscriber to the power of the medium. All's well in her self-contained TV-centric world as long as its hermetic seal isn't compromised. But compromised it is when Sonia, her mother (Toni Jourdan), with three months left to live, is granted compassionate release from prison and comes to die under her watch. It's like culture shock when mama arrives, and Amelia is cast into a tailspin of emotion and confusion.
Notwithstanding the soulful encouragement of Iris (Melvina Jones-Leslie), a caseworker whose mission is to help families re-connect and communicate what has been left unsaid, Amelia rages at her mother, unforgiving of her crime and mercilessly wanting to watch her mother die.
If the seal of self-protection is to be penetrated and Amelia's heart opened to vulnerability and forgiveness, the agent of change may be a call center co-worker who woos her with awkward affirmations of adoration and a plant named Plantasia. Ben (portrayed with a disarming sweetness by Phil Weaver-Stoesz) is bright-eyed and eager to win her affection. It is the play's bittersweet irony that Ben witnesses a different Amelia, an altruistic soul, soliciting $35-a-month sponsorships for starving children in Africa. He is the evangelist of the hug as salvation ~ exhorting Amelia to squeeze until she hears their souls meeting each other.
This is powerful theatre, well-played, and deserving of broader attention. Three cheers for The Bridge Initiative's commitment promote the works of women artists.
Anatomy of a Hug's schedule included four performances at Mesa Encore Theatre's Black Box on Friday, June 19th at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, June 20th at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, June 21st at 2:30 p.m. Now, we wait eagerly for its next productions.
Photo credit to Brenda Jean Foley