Was Bridge & Tunnel so acclaimed off and on Broadway because of audience familiarity with the indigenous characters portrayed? Or because of its predominant, mostly sharply written monologues? Or was it so well performed by the author of this tour de force? In its regional premiere at Florida Studio Theatre in its "alternative theatre" venue, audiences seem mainly drawn in by the strength and endurance of Karen Stephens' performance. It's so demanding that it was originally to be shared with another actress on alternating days. However, Kate Alexander, so appreciated for her own acting in one-woman plays as well as directing them, has found Stephens reliable to portray 14 immigrants from the area of New York and New Jersey designated by the title.
The occasion is an open mic evening of delivering their writing by members of a club known by its initials: I.A.M.A.P.O.E.T.T.O.O. It's dominated by its emcee, a Pakistani accountant named Mohammed Ali, with corny humor and sometimes unintelligible accent. He tends to grow on listeners, though his between-acts calls to his wife lack clarity that would allow sympathy with him for possibly being federally investigated without cause. In fact, almost all the characters seem chosen to appeal, in as politically correct ways as possible, to a sense that we Americans should accept, love and empathize with our newest immigrants. It may be easier to simply tolerate the young black hipster. All the others, except for an Eastern European Jew, are persons of color and, though he's on only briefly, he's a gruff success.
A Mexican in a wheelchair tells of his and his girl's difficult trip here through the dessert. A Vietnamese-American with fire in his eyes tells what his poem is not about. Stylish Lydia from the Dominican Republic has settled in the Bronx and is so nervous that she's afraid she won't be understood. Mrs. Ling has a story, not a poem, to tell. She's the most compelling speaker, dealing with the problem of her lesbian daughter and her newfound love.
Stephens uses Marcella Beckwith's well designed headgear, sweaters, scarves, along with minimal hand-held props to help her change characters. Director Alexander blocks her actions in all planes of the stage as well as nooks and crannies provided by Nayna Ramey and lit by Michael Klaers. I found following Alexander's and her actress' techniques more interesting than what struck me as mostly stereotypical characters.
Forrest Richards is Stage Manager for the 75-minute
one-act that seemed to last longer.
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