Presented by Argos Productions
By David Valdes Greenwood
Directed By Sarah Gazdowicz
March 7-22, 2014
Boston Playwrights’ Theatre
949 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
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Trigger Warning: Gunshots are used in this production. Sexual abuse of minors is discussed albeit not in detail.
(Boston) The events of Bully Dance are based on the events of a multiple homicide that culminated in a suicide on public transportation in 2006. This is not a light, fluffy or otherwise hope inspiring production. It must be emphasised that playwright David Valdes Greenwood is not attempting to recreate the tragic events. Rather, he has constructed imaginary scenarios that explore the emotional truths of the victims and the survivors. Like an allegorical morality play, this production examines the effects of horrific violence on the heart and mind of Man.
It is Easter Sunday in Maine and Nola has set the table for the surviving family of a double homicide and suicide. Tammy and Alice have lost their partners to vigilante “justice.” Cora has lost her son. Travis expresses his regrets of a life of loneliness. Nola narrates and tries to understand how terrible things happen. Within the context of a year, they try to understand why brutal violence happens to good people.
People, except for sociopaths, live on a behavioral spectrum of good and bad. The hearts and minds of human beings don’t work in absolutes. Society prefers to paint murderers as evil monsters and victims (unless they are female) as innocent. The truth is that murderers and victims are still people. Murderers can be kind or good. Victims can be manipulative or unscrupulously nasty. A person can be both a victim and a lawbreaker but that doesn’t make them any less deserving of compassion or decency. Greenwood’s play forces the audience to answer the question, ‘if all life is sacred, doesn’t that make a murderer’s life sacred too?” The answer is not a clear-cut “yes” or “no.” All the while, we must keep in mind that the bereaved say and do things they do not mean. It is difficult knowing who to forgive (the answer is: everyone, in their own time).
Bully Dance does an excellent job of revealing the good and bad realities of humanity while giving vent to the very normal patterns of anger, frustration and sadness. Juggling the complicated reactions to violence can be a near impossible task but the collective efforts of playwright, director and cast make it seem easy. The focus is on the acting and not navigating a potentially difficult script.
The entire cast gives an excellent performance. In particular, I was taken by Christopher Nourse (Travis). Nourse creates some of the most memorable moments in the show by imbuing Travis with a universally relatable, bitter loneliness. He also has some of the only funny moments. He grants Bully Dance some desperately needed levity before bringing us immediately back to our sadness as if flipping a switch.
The structure of this play is based loosely on that of a requiem (mass for the dead). Audience members paying attention to the arrangement of Bully Dance will recognize that the scenes and monologues do resemble a choral work. Some sections are less defined but the play clearly begins with an dramatic “Introit,” followed by a “Kyrie.” It ends with a clear “Pie Jesu” that leads into an “In Paradisum.” Although the Latin source texts are not used, the characters make clear Greenwood’s intent with the colloquial treatment of forgiveness and redemption.
The poignant sound design by Chris Larson further proves Greenwood’s intent. In brief moments of emotional rest, an angelic soprano pierces both the silence and the hearts of the audience. It is a reminder that even in moments of tragedy, beauty can be found.
Greenwood’s play is too intense to label “good” or “bad” after only one viewing (spotty New England accents aside). In 75 minutes we experience a concentrated dollop of drama that leaves the nervous system in shock. Yet, due to good writing and solid leadership from director Sarah Gazdowicz, the play is not overwhelming. The viewer should leave asking questions about the nature vs nurture of evil or why society paints lawbreakers only as bad people. It’s a thoughtful play and, for the right audience, it will be thought provoking.