BWW Reviews: On the Edge of Hope
The idea of "providence," although dealing much with powers not associated with the mundane world, is, after all, very much a human affair. Sometimes human destiny is better found when brought forward by hands not our own, in an act which seems random and inconvenient to those on the receiving end, but is truly the only way we can ever find ourselves again.
At times, it seems we are not in control of both our own lives and the way in which we react to them. It is inevitable that certain people - those so full of indecision and regret - cannot live much longer with such a burden placed upon their shoulders. Whether their "providence" concerns issue of morality, love or simply drifting with the tide, attempting to find oneself in this midst of bad decisions and an unrelenting feeling that something is missing from an individual's life, there is one thing that all such people in search of something have in common: they are all human.
Watching people - complete strangers - help each other absolve themselves of what burdens them so in what is essentially a giant intervention, is something amazing; it is a random circumstance that each of us undoubtedly wishes would happen in our own lives. Symbolically trapped in the Providence, Rhode Island bus terminal, people meet and talk about their lives, breaking down barriers and seeking the forgiveness and certainty they seek so ardently, not even knowing how "providence" sneaks in until the very end.
Written by David A. Gill and directed by Tom Wallace, Providence is essentially a deep study of humanity - of how difficult it is to be human and live without existentially getting lost at least at least a thousand times. Originally produced at Transient Theater in Chicago and marking the completion and production of Gill's first full length play, this show is a triumph. It is about the consequences of living with a hole in the center of one's being, and the pain associated with trying to bandage it up while life unrelentingly continues in the meantime. It also focuses on the opposing force: the joy associated with the attempts and efforts of people to fill that empty space with more than kind words; that hole is filled with individual feelings of understanding, forgiveness and love. The magic that is Gill's play occurs when human action mingles with divine influence, and this combination is both messy and incredibly effective and beautiful.
In what turns out to be quite a unique, well thought out and basically a very "complete" story, Providence finds a handful of strangers, each with different stories and circumstances, stranded in the Providence bus terminal and patiently waiting for many different things to happen. As their destinations are not the same, the audience bears witness to an array of scenarios beneath one roof. One group is awaiting the arrival of a piece which mysteriously disappeared from inside the bus, while a woman has unfortunately missed the last departing bus of the evening; the others wait for the nasty rain which plagues their travels to subside so that they may eventually get on with their lives. And, of course, there is the town drunk, who has found himself waiting in the terminal providing little bits of nonsensical yet incredibly relevant comments and advice that give the play that much more weight. Each person is stranded, angry for different reasons that have very little to do with his or her current situation; it is as though a divine hand has assembled such a troubled group, so that the true healing can begin.
How ironic that the buses which are meant to physically move each person from one point to another are not functioning; instead, an emotional trip occurs before the audience's collective eye without any movement on any character's behalf. The line-up of characters is as follows. There is a famous singer (played by Carla Briscoe*) who is headed to Connecticut to meet her fiancé, a man she is hardly in love with. There is a young Harvard grad (Joel T.Bauer*) who is convinced he is the cause of his best friend's death, two friends (Nick Adamson and Nico Meyer Allen) who are continuously at odds with one another because of their inability to see each other in the way each wants to be seen. They are on their way to the wedding of one boy's father, and are only going because of an obligation to be the "son" he has hardly been to a distressed parent.
One young, eccentric woman (Geri-Nikole Love) is on her way to meet a spiritual guide that will tell her what she wants to know about life, including some very intriguing news of her hamster's death. She also falls for the more dimwitted of the two male friends heading to the wedding. There is a rather sleazy guy (Richard Lear*) who is perpetually by the phone, makings calls to every woman he has ever known in Providence to see if he can hook up with any of them during his unplanned stay in Rhode Island. There is the psychology major (Michelangelo Milano*) who has been hanging out at the terminal collecting oral and visual accounts of peoples thoughts and opinions for an assignment; he is actually not so much a psychology student as he is a choreographer. Finally, there is the half-conscious drunk (Todd Butera*) who moves from seat to seat, and from person to person, providing witty comments and somewhat nonsensical sayings that somehow magically capture the essence of each conversation being had an, essentially, come together to bring this entire play to its greatest significance. All of these people come together and determine which among them is best to help each figure out the current debacle that is their lives.
The characters have their stories to tell, their doubts and fears spilled out to another equally troubled person who is eager to listen, yet each also comes to represent another person the physical retelling the situations which create the most turmoil in the mind of each individual present. The singer could be speaking about the love she had once upon a time, and instantly her current conversation is transferred to that night she spent with him on the beach, one of the other people in that terminal naturally stepping in as the man whom she lost because of her choice to remain loyal to her fiancé. This happens with each character within the play, and it is really something amazing to watch these actors transition from one character to the next; the talent upon that stage is extremely, extremely evident. I mentioned that this play is "complete" because of how much detail and care is placed into the telling of each story, and how these strangers become so intertwined and essential to the new life structure built by the time the rain has stopped and the bus is apparently able to move once again.
This play really emphasizes how much of a "chance" it seems to meet people who will be there to put the pieces of one's life back together, all the while proving that the power we as human beings possess to change both the lives of others and our own is so significant in itself. Without giving too much away, it may have been unplanned how such people with pain so similar could have wound up beneath one roof, but how they influence one another and create entirely new beings towards the end of the show is something only a proper show of humanity can do. Gill's show is longer than the usual straight play, but if you stay for the entire journey, you will see how much wonder there is to be found in watching these people figure themselves out when they have no one but themselves to focus on. This play shows that each of us is in need of some sort of healing, and finding the means by which to make this happen is something glorious - almost divine, in a sense. Providence deserves to be seen at least once, as it is that great a show.
Oh, and watch out for that drunk guy. He has a much bigger part in all this than you may think.
Aside from the incredibly talented cast, credit must also be given to Charles Kirby (set, light and sound design) and Jonathan Michaud (costume design) for their great work behind the scenes.
Providence opened on October 9th and will continue performances until October 26th. The performance schedule is as follows: Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. All performances take place at Roy Arias Stage IV, located at 300 West 43rd Street between 8th and 9th Avenues. Tickets are $18, and the space is so intimate that every seat is pretty good! For reservations, please call (646) 637.2709 or visit http://www.providencetheplay.com/.
Enjoy the show!
*Actors Equity Member
Photo Credit: Pepe Pombo Photography