Bruise Easy Review - Snapshot of American Suburbia More Superficial Than Edgy

 

Matt Farabee and Kelly O’Sullivan in the world premiere of Dan LeFranc's "Bruise Easy" at American Theater Company. Image by Michael Brosilow

 

American Theatre Company presents the world premiere of Bruise Easy, the story of estranged siblings reunited on the driveway of their childhood home in southern California. This new script by Dan LeFranc has one foot in hyperrealism and the other in a stylized aesthetic influenced by pop art and Greek theatre. Unfortunately, the disjointedness of the elements is less disappointing than the total absence of emotional resonance in the writing, which made watching this one act more of an ordeal than an enjoyable afternoon.

 

Matt Farabee and Kelly O’Sullivan in the world premiere of Dan LeFranc's "Bruise Easy" at American Theater Company. Image by Michael Brosilow

 

Bruise Easy was scheduled to open on January 11, but the opening was pushed back several days to allow the playwright to make major script changes during tech. One hopes that this sort of inconvenience will result in a particularly spectacular script, but the final product was not only not worth the delays, it was hardly worth the ninety minutes spent in the theatre. LeFranc’s script is lackluster at best, smugly pretentious at worst.

 

Matt Farabee and Kelly O’Sullivan in the world premiere of Dan LeFranc's "Bruise Easy" at American Theater Company. Image by Michael Brosilow

 

The show opens on a chorus of “Neighborhood Children” wearing plastic, Warhol-esque masks and clothing straight from an early aughts fashion magazine. The children, played by high school students, speak in the apathetic language of beach bums and flatly announce their role as chorus and the unfortunate nature of the events to come as though such glibness were a refreshing rather than uninspired way of presenting this information. The chorus shows up again throughout the play, each appearance as bland as the last.

 

Sandy Nguyen and ATC Youth Ensemble Member Jenna Makkawy in the world premiere of Dan LeFranc's "Bruise Easy" at American Theater Company. Image by Michael Brosilow

 

The crux of the story begins with the introduction of protagonists Tess and Alec, who meet on their mother’s driveway and immediately begin to disagree in the vaguest, lowest-energy way possible. Tess, we learn, has broken up with her husband (for reasons never explained) and is here to visit her mother, with whom Alec still lives. Throughout the play, Tess grows deeply frustrated by her mother’s absence from the house, despite claiming to hate her, and refuses to go inside, also for reasons unexplained. In general, much of the characters’ backstory is left vague or left out, and it is difficult to invest in characters whose motivations are so unclear, especially when they are generally passive and unlikeable. Moments like Tess’ smashing her mother’s VHS tapes with a shoe at the end of the show, which might have been powerful in another context, fall flat in the general absence of tension or engagement with the audience.

 

Kelly O’Sullivan and Matt Farabee in the world premiere of Dan LeFranc's "Bruise Easy" at American Theater Company. Image by Michael Brosilow

 

The show has more dead air than a broken radio. Actors Matt Farabee and Kelly O’Sullivan are each talented in their way, but it is hard to care when there is so much meaningless silence and the story seems to crawl along at a snail’s pace. Indeed, it seems a shame that such talented people were brought in to work on such an underwhelming text. Scenic design by Chelsea Warren, working in conjunction with projection designs by Lee Keenan, creates a simple but intriguing environment, featuring a driveway leading up to a lone garage door, surrounded on three sides by a screen onto which images are projected.  The centrality of the garage door invites the audience to wonder what is behind it (a question that is answered in glorious detail toward the end of the show) and the projections do the remaining work of establishing the time of day and style of the different scenes. Sound design by Thomas Dixon is another highlight; masterfully subtle details like lawn sprinklers, crickets, and car horns do wonders to establish place and mood.

 

Kelly O’Sullivan and Matt Farabee in the world premiere of Dan LeFranc's "Bruise Easy" at American Theater Company. Image by Michael Brosilow

 

The show’s incestuous vibes are perhaps the only element that actually connects it to ancient Greece, but even these feel predictable and shallow. No deeper meaning appears to be hidden in the play’s disturbing moments; the audience’s discomfort leads to no insight or truth. Even the chorus’ attempt to bust open the fourth wall at the end of the show and pull the audience into the vicious cycle of unhappy family life the chorus tries to summarize rings hollow, and the play becomes less of a warning against hubris or other vices and more of an unsuccessful attempt at edginess for edginess’ sake.  All in all, Bruise Easy is disappointment.

 

Ticket Information

Location: American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron Street

Dates: Jan. 12 – Feb. 14, 2016

Times: Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m.; Saturdays & Sundays at 2 p.m.

Tickets: Single tickets range from $38-$48 and are available now by calling the ATC box office at 773-409-4125, or visiting the American Theatre Company website. Subscription packages are also available now starting at $105.

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