TOWN HALL THEATRE BRINGS THE ‘BROOKLYN BRIDGE’ TO LIFE WITH COMMUNITY AND LOVE.
Alice through the looking glass comes to mind in Melissa James Gibson’s charming family play, BROOKLYN BRIDGE, now on stage at the Town Hall Theatre Company through March 23rd. Ten-year-old Sasha ventures out her front door to meet the colorful characters of her Brooklyn apartment building. “Bridges are like handshakes connecting land and people,” says Town Hall’s Artistic Director Susan E. Evans, “In BROOKLYN BRIDGE, as Sasha meets the people in her own apartment building, she builds her own bridges of community. Melissa James Gibson has an uncanny ear for dialogue, and a generous, gentle and uncondescending way of talking about the importance of reaching across the corridors.” M. Graham Smith, the Director, says “Melissa James Gibson’s play reminds us that we are living in a time when our communities do not include everyone. Sasha’s journey demonstrates the positive power of curiosity, trust, and courage. ... voices are found, bonds are forged, and healing can occur.”
Smith cast the perfect multi-generational Bay Area actors to bring this neighborhood journey to the Town Hall Stage, including the amazing young actor, Emma Curtin. Sasha is on stage for the entire two hour two-act story, and Curtin is spot on with pages of script and dialogue in Gibson’s play. Curtin shows gifted talent alongside her 11 member, impeccable cast of characters she meets on her journey to find a pen to do her school report.
BROOKLYN BRIDGE has an important history as a bright children's play, but makes an easy transition to an evening of family theatre. The world premiere of BROOKLYN BRIDGE was produced in 2005 by Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis. This delightful play is family entertainment where the adult characters don’t talk down to the young lead. Gibson’s story is a warm, gentle wonderland depiction of community. It doesn’t condescend to its audience, making it an ideal piece of theater for adults and young fans to enjoy together.
Sasha’s report on the bridge is due tomorrow, and she hasn’t written a word yet. As a latchkey kid, Sasha is used to spending evenings alone in her third-floor Brooklyn apartment while her mother cleans offices late into the night. She’s supposed to stay put once she gets home from school, but she can’t find a pen to write her report with. This leads her to a journey into the halls of her building. Liliana Duque Piñeiro’s terrific set is partly magical, a maze of color windows, doors, and hallways. The props designed and built by the clever Kate Saville include a 7’ foot plant that becomes a ballet of sorts between two shadowy figures played by the splendid Alma Pasic-Tran and Gilberto Polanco.
Sasha’s journey to borrow a pen from one of her neighbors leads her on an “Alice in Wonderland Journey,” where she discovers the colorful range of backgrounds and people underneath her roof. Next door is Sam, played by the accomplished Terrance Smith, a dental student and taxi driver who owns a sneaky, anxiety-ridden cat, featuring the sweet talents of Benjamin Nguyen who brings “Red the Cat” to life.
Down the hall is an elderly history buff and longtime building resident in a wheelchair named John. He is played by the marvelous Tom Reilly, who brings all his dapper charm to Sasha’s new discoveries, but yet … no pen. On a distant balcony you can hear the spellbinding Mikah Kavita, playing a woman stuck on a song. Kavita’s beautiful voice fills the Town Hall stage with “Wire Wings,” a song by Barbara Brousal. Piñeiro’s set includes a two-level set of porches and doors that extends into the audience and where we see Kavita throughout Sasha’s journey.
Among the neighbors Sasha meets is motherly-like Talidia, a Puerto Rican woman with a basket full of laundry. The dynamic Leticia Duarte brings a warm yet stern compassion to the busy mom, and Sasha learns from her, as she does from all the characters she meets. Some of her new friends are goofy, like Trudi, a businesswoman who lives above her flat. The entertaining Sheila Devitt plays Trudi, a heavy-footed animated lady imported from a Roald Dahl book (but very loveable), offering a peek into Sasha’s imagination. The daughter of a Russian immigrant, Sasha feels like she’s stuck in the middle of two cultures. We never meet her working mom, but Sasha, from the rooftop of her building, says “hi” to her as she works in a building across town.
The Brooklyn Bridge history comes alive, as Sasha has studied its iconic role to bridge New York's communities. The lively Bryan Navarro, Nguyen, Pasic-Tran, Polanco, and Jeanette Sarmiento, as the designer and father of the Brooklyn Bridge, Washington Roebling, complete the ghosts of the Bridge. The lighting design by Allen Willner dims and brings out the cable workers and Roebling in the distance.
Denise Altaffer’s costume designs are bright and eye-catching, and for the bridge workers, gray and ghostly. Ryan Short’s sound design mixes the light guitar played by Kavita and the sounds of the Brooklyn Bridge. Stage managers Georgia Taylor Benedict and Marshall kept the eleven member cast coming and going from the many apartment doors; and some of the scenes are performed in the aisles of the theatre. Associate Director Dana Nelson-Isaacs helps bring to the story a clever fantasy feel, including the “Red the Cat” designed by Kate Saville.
Sasha eventually admits she’s written her entire paper in her head. She just can’t seem to get the words down on paper. Young Curtin’s performance captures the story of the Bridge in a fool-proof monologue with Reilly at her side. Her witty, professional poise is what the playwright intended, Gibson says her dialogue is “an attempt to articulate the inarticulateness of being human.” Gibson also says Sasha is the most “mature” character she has written to date.
The importance of building community bonds is the important theme as the story closes. Sasha is surrounded by her new friends as she completes her report with the Brooklyn Bridge in the distance. Director Smith establishes a nice balance, silly antics with Sasha’s questions, and new friends. BROOKLYN BRIDGE is a sweet enduring story that is perfect for your Spring theatre season. Town Hall Theatre Company’s new season “Transformations” begins September 26th with THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE, and also includes the musical VIOLET in the summer of 2020. But, in the meantime, begin your spring at BROOKLYN BRIDGE and bring Sasha a pen so she can finish her school report.
TOWN HALL THEATRE COMPANY presents
by Melissa James Gibson,
Directed by M. Graham Smith
MUST CLOSE March 23, 2019
Running Time: 2:00 hours with an intermission
Town Hall Theatre Company,
3535 School Street, Lafayette, CA 94549
BOX OFFICE: (925) 283-1557; www.townhalltheatre.com
Photos by Jay Yamada
CAST: Emma Curtin, Sheila Devitt, Leticia Duarte, Mikah Kavita, Bryan Navarro,
Benjamin Nguyen, Alma Pasic-Tran, Gilberto Polanco, Tom Reilly,
Jeanette Sarmiento, and Terrance Smith
THT’s production features credits from around the Bay Area: Liliana Duque Piñeiro (scenic design, previously designed The Revolutionists at Town Hall this Season); Allen Willner (lighting design); Ryan Short (sound design); Denise Altaffer (costume design); and Kate Saville (properties design).
THT will host Special Events for BROOKLYN BRIDGE: LIT UP at Town Hall, a literary salon, on Wednesday, March 13, 2019; and Theatre Club, our post-show talk-backs with complimentary wine, on Friday, March 8, and Friday, March 22, 2019. For BROOKLYN BRIDGE, Town Hall Theatre’s newest community partner is Engineers Alliance for the Arts (“EAA”), a non-profit organization dedicated to giving students the experience of working with a professional engineer in the classroom, promoting its Student Impact Project. One hour before performances, audiences will enjoy THT’s full bar and entertainment in the lobby.
Bay Area Nonprofit neighbors at Engineers Alliance for the Arts (EAA) will be in the lobby before the show along with their student designed bridges! Together we are building smiles in Brooklyn! TownHallTheatre.com
ABOUT TOWN HALL THEATRE COMPANY
Established in 1944 as the Dramateurs, Town Hall Theatre turned 74 this year, making it the oldest continuously active theatre in Contra Costa County. Town Hall Theatre was awarded Best Theatre Troupe 2016 in Diablo Magazines, Best of The East Bay, and is the past recipient of numerous Shellie Awards, and regional Theatre Bay Area Awards. THT is also home to an extensive children’s educational program, twice voted the “Best Children’s Theatre Company” by Bay Area Parent Magazine. THT’s 103-year old historical building is managed by the Lafayette Association (LIA). Town Hall Theatre Company is located at 3535 School Street, in Lafayette, CA 94549. The Box Office is open Tuesday through Friday, 4:00 to 6:00PM, and Saturday, 2:00-4:00 pm, and can be reached at 925.283.1557. Information is also available at www.TownHallTheatre.com.