We Call Her Benny
nytheatre.com review by Anthony Nelson
March 7, 2007
Suzanne Bachner's We Call Her Benny is an episodic tale of the life of a woman named Anna (played by Anna Cody as her older self and Anna Bridgforth as the younger) as she journeys through life as an adopted child. The play follows several different strands that occur at different points in her life. Some of them are very effective, but the overall effect is somewhat disjointed, and I felt little connection between the younger Anna and the person she eventually becomes.
The most effective story follows the older Anna and her husband, Kevin (Thaddeus Daniels), as they enjoy a Fourth of July visit with Anna's old friend Gaby (Morgan Lindsay Tachco) and her lecherous husband Peter (Bob Brader). Gaby and Peter are interested in a group sexual experience, but it rapidly exposes fault lines in Anna's marriage.
In another, the sixteen-year old Anna is tangled in a relationship with a much older family friend, Max (Danny Wiseman), who remains emotionally distant, believing that he is doing no wrong so long as he only allows her to touch him, and not the other way around. Anna uses this relationship as a wedge between herself and her father (Bob Cellii), and the psychiatrist he's selected for her (an effective Sean Dill).
There are other storylines, some of which work well, like the older Anna's meeting with her birth mother (Candice Owens), who turns out to not share any of Anna's interests.
Bachner has directed her own script with style and verve, keeping the entire company onstage at all times. They assume a variety of poses to add emphasis to the action without distracting, and are occasionally also used to provide sound effects. Deborah Alves's costume design, which puts everyone in black except for the bright red dresses worn by the Annas, works, and the small changes in the style of red dress for the older Anna is a nice touch.
Bachner's work has a lot going for it, but the overall message of the play is muddled, and I had trouble following Anna's journey from the desperate teenager she is in the early-going, to the mature older woman who seems simply to be involved with the wrong man. The storyline that follows older Anna's conversation with her still-born brother (played with elephant-in-the-room symbolism by the enormous Francis P. O'Flynn) doesn't really work, especially as the doubts expressed about Anna's parents love for her are more effectively addressed in other scenes. This piece has a lot of potential, but, as often happens when playwrights direct their own work, could use a good editing session.