BWW Review: A BENCH AT THE EDGE, Tristan Bates Theatre
During a fortuitous meeting at the edge of an abyss, two strangers contemplate the existential decisions that have lead them there. A Bench at the Edge is a sharp and uncompromising dark comedy that examines mental health and free will. Luigi Jannuzzi's distinctively Beckettian piece of theatre delivers a broad observation on attachment to their existence and loss of hope, while directly addressing the individual complexities that push people to suicide. Directed by Kasia Różycki, the play is quiet and, even in the sparse auditorium of the Tristan Bates Theatre, offers a cinematic atmosphere to the story.
Besides the actresses, a cellist (Samuel Creer) comes in highlighting moments in the narration just like a film soundtrack would. Meg Lake and Harriet Main are the anonymous women who, little by little, reveal their motives and reasoning behind their extreme personal choice. Their clash of personalities sets the reflection in motion: Lake's worn clothes are in direct opposition to Main's polished look, and the latter's alarmed attitude runs parallel to the other's calm and amused demeanour.
Slowly but surely, they inadvertently start to celebrate life by stressing their eagerness to abandon it. Lake's character is enamoured by the thought of the abyss. She stares at in, praising all the souls who decides to jump into it but never herself taking the leap. When she meets Number Two, she grows curious of her intent but even more so of her hesitation. The women begin considering the pros and cons of embracing their demise, but ultimately reminisce about the beauty of the human condition.
Jannuzzi's absurdist view of the cogitations that lie behind the drastic decision of killing oneself is timeless. Written in the 80s, the piece has aged unbelievably well and is still as timely as it was when it first premiered. His characters exchange their thoughts on the stigma and embarrassment of their position, the hurt that their surrender would cause their families, and the weight of their actions all through smooth gallows humour and peculiar morbid curiosity.
Their passionate grip on living precludes them a reckless end and Number One's cynical outlook is equally filled with concealed optimism and promise. Różycki sets an ambitious pace as she joins two quite singular acting approaches and turns Main's slightly declamatory tone into a quirk of her character's dramatic trajectory placing her next to Lake's sleek and confidently natural delivery.
As presented by Off The Cliff, the show is accomplished and precise. Jannuzzi's refined musings on one of the greatest empirical doubts shines under Różycki's direction and, through banter and clever commentary, the company kick off a compelling study on the inevitability of life.