Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Bridge Repertory Company of Boston Presents A New Play - "The Launch Prize" by MJ Halberstadt

I am familiar with the work of playwright MJ Halberstadt, having enjoyed last year's Boston Teen Acting Troupe's production of "I Don't Know Where We're Going, But I Promise We're Lost."  In this current production, "The Launch Prize," the playwright tackles issues of community and loyalty among a group of four artists, all talented Master of Fine Arts students who are preparing to hang their paintings for a capstone exhibit. While hanging their work, they anxiously await permission from an off-stage mentor to open envelopes that will reveal which one of them is the winner of the prestigious "Launch Prize." The winner of the prize will receive enough money to spend a life-changing year traveling the globe pursuing their art.

Mr. Halberstadt loads the dice by assigning a different ethnic origin to each of the four characters. Kim (Katherine Chen Lerner) is Asian, Sebastian (Bari Robinson) is Latino, Michelle (Angela K. Thomas) is African-American, and Austin (John Tracey) is Caucasian.  The arc of the play explores the tension that hangs in the air - as real as the canvases that are being hung - as to how each artist's ethnicity will inform how she or he reacts to either winning the prize, or losing out to one of their classmates. Halberstadt borrows a technique from the movies "Rashomon" and "Clue" by telling part of the story multiple times - each time through the eyes of a different character.  So, we witness the telltale envelope being opened four times, with a different winner each time.

Bari Robinson as Sebastian
John Tracey as Austin
Angela K. Thomas as Michelle
Katherine Chen Lerner as Kim
"The Launch Prize"
by MJ Halberstadt
Bridge Rep
Through March 20th.

Kim had tried to hide both her ethnicity and gender by signing her paintings enigmatically "Tuesday Next." If one of the ethnic minorities wins, will it because of a subtle bent on the part of the jury to impose some affirmative action sensibilities to balance a long tradition of the art world being dominated by European and American white males?  In each of the four scenarios that are played out, different combinations of relationships are strained and tested, as winners try to justify their victory, and losers rationalize their failure to win and accuse their friend of taking unfair advantage of their race, gender, name, etc. Director Tiffany Nichole Greene keeps the actors working together at a brisk pace, using the space wisely so that the action and dialogue is close to each section of the audience over the course of the play.  The ensemble is a strong one, with each of the actors creating a believable and sympathetic character.  I cared about the fate of each one, which is a powerful litmus test for me in judging how well written and well acted a play may be.

The play does a very fine job of capturing the dynamics of friendship amidst competition, with dialogue reflecting the complex constellation of relationships among this gifted quartet. In a delicious twist of irony, Bridge Rep's Producing Artistic Director, Olivia D'Ambrosio, offered some brief remarks following the play about how art should bring people together.  In "The Launch Prize," we see that art can also be a wedge to drive us apart if we allow petty differences to trump artistic and relational sensibilities.  The playwright does not insult the audience by offering facile answers, but he frames the questions well.

Scenic Design is by Ryan Bates, Costumes by Esme Allen, Lighting by Stephen Petrilli, and Sound by Skylar Burks.  The play run through this weekend - March 20 - at the BCA.

Bridge Rep Website



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