BWW Review: West Coast Premiere Of MARION BRIDGE Shines To A Sold-Out Crowd
The neon blue Son of Semele sign casts faint light on to the outdoor lobby where the audience gathers until the house opened. As you walk inside the theatre, it is as if you were entering your high school's black box building. Thirty-five seats rest in front of the stage, and all but one were filled by the time MARION BRIDGE premiered Saturday night in Rampart Village.
MARION BRIDGE, the brainchild of award-winning Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor, is a comedic drama about three strong-willed women who "have everything and nothing in common."
Act I opens with Agnes Mackeigan (Amy DeBourget) reciting a monologue about drowning. The spotlight on her eventually grows to light the stage, which provides the setting: a room within the MacKeigan sisters' childhood home. Centerstage is a wooden table with an ashtray, cigarettes, a lighter, a flask, an eyeglass case and a bright red purse. A black dresser is behind it with books and a cross atop it. A bench is upstage (house left) with clean piles of shoes beneath it, and downstage from that is a coat rack. I like how set designer Jacquelyn Gutierrez kept the set simple and straightforward. It did not overshadow the play or the actresses, yet it could be easily manipulated to give the illusion of an outdoor scene at the end of Act II.
Her sister, Theresa (Carolyn Reese Crotty), is introduced, and shortly thereafter so is Louise (Sarah Boughton). With the direction of Don Boughton (a Son of Semele Ensemble member) and the writing of MacIvor, it is easy to differentiate each sister. Agnes, with a flask in hand and the cigarettes sitting on the table, is the auburn-haired rebel. She is outspoken and extroverted. Theresa, wearing a skirt to her knees with her blonde hair wrapped back, is the religious one. As a nun, Theresa is taught to be reserved and conservative. Louise - with Doc Martens, cargo pants and a Light Brown ponytail - is shy and still finding herself. She is described as strange throughout most of the play.
The women converge in Cape Breton, Canada, with one sole purpose: to take care of their dying mother. While Theresa and Louise bounce back and forth visiting Mother, Agnes refuses. At first I was confused because there was no clear reason why Agnes would not go upstairs. I had a feeling she and Mother did not get along, but it took some time for the background story to unfold. By the middle of Act I, the audience learns as a young woman, Agnes had a daughter and out of wedlock with a past fling who still lives in Cape Breton. Mother, a religious woman (her favorite saint was Jude), forced Agnes to put her daughter up for adoption and was ultimately sent to a convent for six months.
Although MARION BRIDGE sounds dramatic (which it is, do not get me wrong), MacIvor's witty writing helps soften the growing tension between the sisters. Boughton's directorial skills push each actress to deliver a variety of humorous lines with precise timing that make the small theatre explode with laughter. At one point I thought the gentlemen next to me were going to keel over from laughing so hard.
Act I closes with a pull at the heartstrings and has the audience questioning, "What now?" These headstrong women either have each others' backs or do not. There are no other options.
I think my favorite part about Act II is seeing the transformation among the MacKeigan sisters and how well developed the characters become. Besides singing in the opening of the act, Boughton easily outshines DeBourget and Crotty. I am not saying DeBourget and Crotty are not great in their characters; I just think Boughton's character allowed her to experiment with extremities. There are two moments in Act II where Boughton delivers. One is when she is explaining to her sisters how she always feels left out, like when the family went to Marion Bridge, but she was left behind because of chicken pox. If her intention behind the passion and dramatic performance was to make me feel badly for her, she gets a round of applause. I wanted to uproot myself from my chair to hug her and tell her everything is going to be OK. The other moment is when Boughton gives a monologue about driving and breaks the fourth wall. I always enjoy when an actor or actress breaks the fourth wall because it creates a sense of realness and connection between the audience and the character. She delivered her monologue flawlessly and made me want to drive down an old country road listening to my favorite song.
From the beginning of Act II, I sensed transformations among all the characters. Agnes blossoms from a selfish and self-centered drunkard to an altruistic, motherly figure. In one scene, Agnes and Louise are playing cards as a means for Agnes to talk to Louise in the wake of the sisters' devastation. Her soft speaking voice gives Louise advice on how to approach an issue, and in the end, Louise abides by it. A gentle kiss on Louise's head might have caught Louise off guard, but it was a loving act Agnes had never expressed.
Theresa has a scene where she realizes God may not be all encompassing, and she starts to question if she should be consumed in faith. When she undoes her head wrap and completely removes it, that signifies to me Theresa is a new woman. By the end of the play, Theresa may have shed her pleated skirt for a pair of pants, but she still has a cross adorn her neckline.
After her intense driving monologue, Louise comes to the conclusion that she really is strange, and she is OK with it. She is less reserved and more comfortable with whom she is becoming, whoever that may be.
MARION BRIDGE sends a message for all to see: The world is filled with strong women. With MacIvor's strong dialogue and Boughton's intense direction, the audience witnesses the portrayal of three contrasting and complex female leads, and all without a male counterpart.
MARION BRIDGE runs now through Sept. 24 at Son of Semele Theater (3301 Beverly Blvd. in Los Angeles) Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. There will be one Monday performance (Sept. 18) at 7 p.m. This play is appropriate for anyone 16 years and older. Tickets are $20 and can be bought online at www.sonofsemele.org or by calling 213-351-3507.
Please note street parking is the only parking option, and it is best to allow at least 20 minutes to park. Although it is free, it is recommended to check any and all parking signs before walking away.
Photo Credit: Scotty Martin