BWW Review: IMAGINING BRAD Examines A Tough Subject Few Are Willing to Discuss
In this absurd, poignant, uncomfortably funny play written by Academy Award nominated Peter Hedges ("What's Eating Gilbert Grape," "Pieces of April," and "About A Boy") and directed by Clare Carey (NBC Hit "AQUARIUS"), stars Sirena Irwin and Sarah Randall Hunt portray two women who despite their initial differences grow a unique friendship of compassion, support, and survival. What becomes apparent as we get to know these two women is that IMAGINING BRAD takes a realistic look at the often-disquieting dynamics of domestic violence in the relationships of men and women in contemporary society.
Taking place in the growing metropolis of Nashville, we first meet mousy Valerie (Sarah Randall Hunt) in a church social hall where she is crying for reasons unknown. Coming in to comfort her is elegantly coiffed and well-dressed Dana Sue Kay (Sirena Irwin) who takes it upon herself to befriend the newcomer to the congregation. Dana Sue is all busybody chatter, more than willing to talk about her husband Alex in the most glowing terms, right down to graphic descriptions of his ability to being her to orgasm. From her point of view, their marriage is ideal both emotionally and physically.
As the play evolves and Dana Sue pushes her for information, Valerie finally opens up about her husband, Brad, a half-man without legs, arms, hair, or sight. What he does have is money and the ability to support her as she tries to make it in the country music world. Sarah Randall Hunt has a lovely singing voice and the ability to share her frailness as well as her strength in dealing what life has brought to her along the way. Over drinks in a bar, Valerie finally reveals she was physically abused by her father from the age of 12 until he died when she was 16. Of course Valerie had to hide the truth to avoid being beaten even worse and her mother (who was aware of what was going on) never said a word, thinking her daughter's actions would keep her husband at home and their marriage together.
After that revelation, it is easy to see why the two women have become friends as Valerie realizes by Dana Sue's loud protestations of how wonderful her husband is, what she is really doing is hiding the fact he has been abusing her for years. This fact becomes evident when Dana Sue enters with her arm in a cast and a black eye, injuries that Valerie certainly recognizes as similar to those from her own abuse. And later when Dana Sue walks in on crutches with a broken leg, nose, wearing a neck brace, she cannot deny what is really going on. It is at this turning point that Valerie takes charge of the situation and offers to assist Dana Sue is getting out of her abusive relationship by finding another "Brad" for her; a man without arms to hit her or legs to kick her.
Of course, the two women find humor in their situations and the moments of laughter ease the tragic circumstances for both the characters and the audience. Hopefully those moments will enlighten those who think beautiful women with apparently fantastic marriages will not always tell you the truth about what goes on behind closed doors, making reasonable excuses for their physical injuries to avoid more abuse, feeling trapped in a situation where they are financially dependent upon their abusive husband or family member which causes them to not speak up. Certainly we hear about these situations in the media more often now, and we can only hope that bringing the situation to light will encourage more women to speak up for their own rights and sanity.
Kudos to Sirena Irwin and Sarah Randall Hunt for their fearless performances and to Clare Carey for her small stage, fact-paced direction with scene changes made in semi-darkness as the characters chatter as they re-arrange the plain wooden chairs and table to represent the many locations they visit together as their friendship and mutual trust develops, ultimately allowing hope to blossom.
IMAGINING BRAD continues on Thursday, Friday and Saturday 8:00PM through July 25, 2015, at The Elephant Asylum Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90038. General admission tickets are $25 and available at http://imaginingbrad.brownpapertickets.com
The production is also working with the following organizations doing Talkbacks after each production and donating proceeds to Peace Over Violence and Good Shepherd Shelter, two organizations working to sustain the movement to build a world without violence by guiding survivors of sexual and domestic violence through the legal system in order for them to receive much-needed justice, protection, and their due rights.
Photos by Stephanie Mathis
Sarah Randall Hunt plays Brad's wife Valerie and Sirena Irwin plays Dana Sue Kay, Alex's wife in IMAGINING BRAD, a play that takes a revealing look at domestic abuse.
Sarah Randall Hunt