BWW Review: A SMALL FIRE at Philadelphia Theatre Co.
Sometimes you can't come to your senses until you lose them.
This is the message that comes out of Philadelphia Theatre Company's A Small Fire. The play, written by Adam Bock and featuring veteran actress Bebe Neuwirth as construction company owner Emily Bridges, follows her as she goes from boss lady to a woman with no sight, sound, or smell.
We meet Emily Bridges as she leads a team of construction workers through a job. She is a stern boss who knows what she wants and considers her employee, Billy Fontaine (Oge Agulué), her best friend.
While at first Emily seems in charge of her life, we see that at home, things aren't so perfect. Bridges' daughter, Jenny (Sarah Gliko) is resentful of her mother for not being present at home, so she clings to her father, Bridges' husband John (John Dossett). In a particularly moving moment, John tells Jenny he can't leave his wife because he can't be alone. Emily is blind to the emotional pain she has inflicted on her family until she becomes literally blind.
All creative aspects of the play come together to make the fairly straightforward script magical. Neuwirth begins the play with a bang, with all the acting know-how of Meryl Streep. In her opening lines, Neuwirth establishes herself as capable, funny and so real. When Bridges loses her senses - and much of her spoken lines - Neuwirth keeps the character noticeable in every scene. All the audience needs to understand Emily's fear and helplessness is Neuwirth's face and body language.
Much like their roles in the play, the other characters serve as accessories to Neuwirth's story until they prove their own acting chops in the second half of the play. Gliko is smart - her character is played with the same headstrong attitude as Neuwirth's, a choice that makes their relationship believable and connects to Jenny's eventual decision to move away from home. Dossett is effortless and makes his character's perpetual love for Emily, who doesn't appreciate it, understandable. Aguelue brings energy and fun into the play that ultimately centers around the Bridges', a distinct difference that amplifies Billy's genuine fondness and caring for Emily.
The set by Chelsea M. Warren mirrors the layers of Emily's life. Scenes with Billy happen at the front of the stage, while her home life is hidden behind a wall. Mark Mariani's costume design serves the same purpose: Emily is introduced to us in a sensible power suit, but the play ends with her wearing a provocative nightdress, when she is forced to look at herself and her relationships outside of her career.
A Small Fire forces you to re-evaluate your own life. If you lost all your senses, could you come back to them?