Right on the heels of its heart-tugging The Big Meal, WaterTower Theatre is offering up another time-bending portrait of a relationship, though this time on a much smaller level.
As part of its Discover Series, presented in the more intimate studio space, Tanya Barfield's 2015 play Bright Half Life zooms through the shared lifetime of Erica (Kelsey Leigh Ervi) and Vicky (Kenneisha Thompson) in a mere 75 minutes.
Much like The Big Meal, quick changes in lighting and sound indicate the passage of time, whether that means we're rewinding to the couple's first meeting or seeing them grow up and apart. Director Garret Storms' set, designed in collaboration with Bradley Gray, along with Luke Atkison's lighting and Kellen Voss' sound design, is enchanting, evoking everything from a carnival to a nondescript office.
The play's quick, choppy scenes, some no more than a sentence or two long, can sometimes make it difficult to follow Barfield's map. Storms, himself an onstage alum of The Big Meal's non-linear storytelling, makes the cues as clear as he can, but determining if Erica and Vicky are together or not, married or separated, arguing or reconciled isn't always readily apparent.
What is apparent is that this is a timely story of a lesbian relationship and marriage, told with a refreshing straightforwardness that neither fetishizes nor plays down the characters' sexual orientation. It's a love story, plain and simple, with all the messiness and hurt and joy that that entails.
Ervi is more sympathetic as the adrift Erica, whose temp job in digital processing brings her into supervisor Vicky's orbit. Often throughout the play Erica is called on to choose between her passion (teaching); her job (textbook writing); and her family, which grows to include twin girls birthed by Vicky.
Ervi, WaterTower's newly named associate artistic director, telegraphs with a slight eyebrow lift or half a smirk what she might be leaving unsaid to her partner, giving Erica much more dimension.
Thompson has a harder go of it as the straitlaced Vicky, who is sometimes more focused on advancing her career than her relationship. This can make Vicky seem aloof, but her icy exterior melts a little each time Thompson surrenders herself to a moment of silliness or gives in to a giggle. As real as the couple's arguments feel, it's their happy moments that resonate the most.
WaterTower Theatre's Bright Half Life plays through June 12.