Bruise / Gringo
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 5, 2007
The two plays being presented under the catchy umbrella title Bruise/Gringo are The Bad Bruise of Billy MacBean, which is about an hour long, and The Gringo of the Deli Acapulco, about half an hour. Both are by the young playwright Eric Bland and directed by Noah Burger. Both are two-character plays that introduce us to quirky young people who are struggling with, among many other things, pangs of love.
Bruise is terrific. Its protagonist is the eponymous Billy MacBean, a former chess prodigy who now, in his early 20s, seems to have become a virtual recluse, never venturing out of his basement and showing no interest in anything other than his mercurially-shifting obsessions. His girlfriend, Klare, is seemingly his only visitor, and she spends lots of time with Billy, trying to coax him out of his basement and himself. She'd love to get him to take her to a dance. She'd love to enter him in a local chess tournament.
What's great about Bland's writing here is that he's confident enough to withhold from the audience: for example, we never learn exactly what it was that brought Billy into this basement (though some probable contributing causes—notably the loss of his father and the waning of his chess-playing talent—are alluded to), but rather watch Klare try to work Billy through a kind of loving rehabilitation process. The focus stays on the people instead of the circumstance, and on the heart rather than the head. As a result we quickly come to care about these people and root for them to find whatever it is they're seeking, even though it's clear that they probably don't know exactly what it is themselves.
Burger's staging of Bruise, on a nicely cluttered set, is sensitive and smooth. Charlie Hewson is outstanding as Billy, allowing us flashes of a complicated and, yes, bruised history that he doesn't want to expose; he's also appealingly likeable and vulnerable. Kaytie Morris is just as fine as Klare, offering a balance between pragmatism and romanticism, the two qualities, clearly, that Billy most requires.
Gringo is a shorter and slighter effort. It takes place in a diner in Brooklyn where a young man named Lorenzo El Greco meets up with a woman named Olivia. At first, it appears that this is a kind of assignation, though whether it's deliberate or not is questionable. But as time passes, it becomes clear that this is instead a confrontation, and that it's anything but random: Olivia has come here to have it out with Lorenzo, and their battle is deadly serious.
Bland is going for a variation on magic realism, with the play simultaneously happening realistically and unrealistically and the dialogue shifting from a light-hearted banter to a much more naturalistic and serious tone as the story progresses. It consistently holds our interest, but I have to admit that I found it ultimately less convincing than the homier, sweeter-natured Bruise. One factor possibly contributing to this might be the very unlikable portrayal by Reena Zaman of Olivia, who from the get-go is unsympathetic. Scott Eckert, on the other hand, is deftly comic and appealing as Lorenzo.
Old Kent Road Theater, the company run by Bland and Eckert that produced this double-bill, continues to demonstrate real promise and growth (I caught an earlier work of theirs last summer at the Midtown International Theatre Festival, Das Brat). These are definitely artists to watch out for.