Presented by Bridge Repertory Theater of Boston
Written by MJ Halberstadt
Directed by Tiffany Nichole Greene
March 3-20, 2016
Stanford Calderwood Pavilion
Boston Center for the Arts
Review by Travis Manni
A note from the Queen Geek: Dear good people of Bridge Rep, my most sincere apologies for the very late posting of this review! I have been on vacation in England and have been unable to post until now.
(Boston, MA) The closest I’ve ever been to an art exhibition opening was during an elementary school field trip to an art museum at least 10 years ago, or more recently when I lived the experience vicariously through the season 3 premiere of Broad City. I’m not a huge art buff, but I do enjoy the arts, so The Launch Prize was a welcoming experience that merged both of these worlds with the theme of race at its epicenter.
Four MFA students are working on the layout of their final thesis projects at an art gallery. In a manila envelope, the name of the winner of The Launch Prize, a national competition, the recipient of which receives an all expenses paid trip to the destination of their choice, sits anxiously to the side. One of the students wants to open it, but they decide to wait until their teacher arrives. Sebastian (Bari Robinson), a half-Mexican, suggests that the judges will pick a winner based on ethnicity, and that does not sit well among his Chinese-American, Black, and White-As-Fuck Irish peers.
Racial lines are blurred, crossed, and questioned. The biggest draw about this play was the choose-your-own-adventure twist. Playwright MJ Halberstadt made the smart decision of exploring every possible scenario if each student won The Launch Prize, and it worked well enough for what it was. But while it was great to see each perspective, the reason I struggled to latch onto any hint of freshness about this show was probably because my favorite part was a contrived plot device. I enjoyed the tension in the show, in particular I related to Austin’s (John Tracey) struggle to find his place in the topic of racial issues. And standout performer Angela K. Thomas had such commanding passion throughout the show.
But I had to take a step back afterwards, and when I did I realized that the show’s biggest draw was this plot device, and maybe that’s why I walked away from the performance feeling only vaguely inspired. There was also a relationship, mostly sexual, that played a small part in the four different scenarios, but I honestly couldn’t find enough justification, or appeal honestly, as to why the relationship was ever even addressed. As an audience member, I didn’t sense any stakes involved in case the relationship went sour, so I wasn’t bothered when it did. It was also hard to feel invested because, unfortunately, Robinson, whose character plays such a key role in stirring the pot and creating tension, fumbled over his lines on many occasions, so I was repeatedly pulled out of the experience.
My problem with the show is that, unlike previous shows about race that I’ve seen, this one does not initiate a conversation with the audience, but rather, puts a variety of possible discussions on display without artistically engaging. The discussion is still interesting to witness, and the ideas of identity and race are always good topics, but don’t be surprised if you walk out unsure about what to say, as I myself left struggling to articulate what, if any, fresh perspective I had gained.
The Launch Prize runs for 1 hour, 30 minutes with no intermission, and will hold performances at the Calderwood Pavilion through March 20th. Tickets can be purchased here.