The Thursday Night Bridge Circle: Decline the invitation

promo photo for The Thursday Night Bridge Club

White beneficence: Evangela Kepinski (Louise) and Allyson Riley (Margaret) in The Thursday Night Bridge Circle. (Photo: Nancy Caldwell)

I do not want to write this review.

I know that it takes enormous effort to mount a show — even if it’s a bad one. And I’m sure that everybody involved with the United Players production of The Thursday Night Bridge Circle has the best of intentions. But sometimes good intentions are really, really not enough. On so many levels, this production is a stinker.

Playwright Ray Kennedy’s script is terrible. Set in 1970 in the town of La Grange, North Carolina, it’s about a bridge night for wealthy white women that’s being hosted by a local named Louise. Louise’s Black servant Margaret, whom she “shares” with her mother, is on hand to prepare and serve the food, and Margaret’s daughter Bernice shows up at the last-minute as a fill-in bartender.

The script starts with long minutes of bald exposition. Alone onstage, Louise sets up the terms of the play and gives us backstory on every woman who’s about to come through the door. It’s tedious and, I’m certain, unnecessary. Even when other characters start to arrive, Louise can’t resist her twitch of turning to the audience and addressing us directly, as if we are incapable of observation.

Playwright Kennedy eventually drops this clumsy convention — mostly — but he introduces others. Although there are up to eleven characters onstage at a time, everybody politely waits their turn to speak; conversations among the people in the crowded room never overlap. Well, theoretically they do, but to accommodate that, actors mouth exchanges we can’t hear. When Louise’s daughter Mary Carter and Bernice decide to have a private conversation, they move a little bit stage right and everybody else pretends to go deaf. It’s ridiculous. They’re in the same room! (The script doesn’t establish a framework for making sense of this.)

In another annoying convention, far too many characters get at least one overlong monologue or dedicated scene in which they explain themselves in prepackaged and often sentimental ways.

The dialogue is overstuffed with deep-fried Southern-isms: “Well butter my butt and call me Betty Crocker!”; “as happy as a two-tailed dog!”

This overwriting may contribute to the actors’ strong tendency, under the direction of Sarah Rodgers, to lean into stereotypes. There is a lot of overacting. Caitlin Clugston, who’s playing a Long Island import named Carmella, and Sarah Reech (Bernice) are both relaxed and nuanced enough to come across as human beings. Other actors in this semi-professional cast enjoy moments of success, but it’s a struggle for them to consistently rise above the script.

Rodgers could have done a better job of supporting her players. In a bad — and revelatory — bit of business right off the top, Louise (Evangela Kepinski) pretends to dust, although she clearly has no intention of cleaning anything. The behaviour is completely unreal and Kepinski rattles off her exposition with zero variation in tone, rhythm, or intensity. This isn’t just Kepinski’s fault; Rodgers could have done a better job of helping her to shape this material and ground it. This point also applies more generally: too often, the stylistic tone of this production is full-flight flibbertigibbet.

The blur of frantic generalization that’s established early in both the writing and the acting continues until just a few minutes before the end of Act 1. At that point, Louise tries to justify the use of a racial slur and, at Bernice’s prompting, Margaret lets Louise have it. At last the show has a narrative and thematic centre!

But playwright Kennedy squanders it.

In a second-act revelation that I won’t give away, it turns out that the secret hero of the piece is one of the overtly racist characters. The underlying messages here are that we should celebrate white saviours and accommodate racists because their struggle to come to terms with their racism is so difficult. Apparently, it’s the job of Black people to forgive white offenders and tell them that everything will be okay.

The handsome set with its see-through walls is by Brian Ball.

THE THURSDAY NIGHT BRIDGE CIRCLE by Ray Kennedy. Directed by Sarah Rodgers. A United Players production at the Jericho Arts Centre on Saturday, September 18. Running until October 2. Tickets

NEVER MISS A REVIEW: Sign up for FRESH SHEET, my weekly e-letter about the arts.

 

And, if you want to help to keep independent arts criticism alive in Vancouver, check out my Patreon page.

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

Comments

  1. I disagree about the 2 person private conversation in a party of 11 portrayed on stage that can’t be heard by others. Many 11 person parties have 2 or 3 conversations at the same time so your complaint is without merit. About your final conclusion paragraph, All in the Family (Award winning TV from the early 70’s) had a white character that was totally racist who evolved over time to accept his black neighbors. That was the way it was then for some, don’t judge the play by today’s values.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Sign up—free!—

YEAH, THIS IS ANNOYING. But my theatre newsletter is fun!

Sign up and get curated international coverage + local reviews every Thursday!