The Bridge | La MamaLeft - Kurt Geyer. Cover - Caity Fowler & Michael Wahr

The disused bridge once led to the city. It was once a way out of the town and away from the regulations, expectations, limited opportunities and relatively close-minded viewpoints that exist within it. Chris Thompson’s The Bridge is very much a play about going places but as it shows through teenaged Aaron (Michael Wahr) and those around him, getting anywhere in life is as much about knowing what you want and how to get it as it is about escape.

This particular production of The Bridge is staged at La Mama’s Courthouse Theatre and the confined space of this venue allows little room for escape – for the characters in the play or the audience. The bridge itself, as it should be, is a permanent fixture in the basic but effective set. The concrete set of stairs at the rear of the workspace forms the structure of the bridge and several planks of wood below suggest the area beneath. The actors precariously clamber over and around the stairs that ascend to some unknown destination, but doubling as the stairs of Aaron’s house, they still offer no means of escape from the town.

Aaron is struggling to come to terms with the death of his mate Donny and the memories and unanswered thoughts that are now prompted by the bridge, the place of Donny’s death. It is Aaron’s subsequent actions that his mother Rita (Margot Fenley), father Reg (Kurt Geyer), his friend Desley (Caity Fowler) and his teachers are finding difficult to deal with. Both Rita as a teacher, and Reg as the local crossing supervisor, struggle with the knowledge that while their very purpose is to direct, protect and ensure that the rules are obeyed, they fail in this endeavour with their own son. The problem in this community is an inability to communicate and connect, with each other and as it turns out, also the past.

Wahr, as Aaron, aptly makes the transitions between his character’s increasingly destructive behaviour and the moments of youthful innocence and playfulness that peep through in many of his scenes with Fowler as Desley. His portrayal of Aaron’s drug use and his consequent inappropriate behaviour, including violence, has the potential to alienate the audience if exaggerated, particularly in such a confined space. However his performance is measured and as with all of Writer/Director Thompson’s characters, he is given the opportunity at the right times to deliver moments of real fury, frustration and anguish.

The cast work well together and there are some lovely moments, in particular those scenes where Aaron and Desley are alone under the bridge. The two warily tread an undefined line between the familiarity of childhood friends and the uncertainties that arise with the growing sexual attraction between a male and a female. This is further complicated as Desley encourages Aaron to share his grief, with her or with others, even though it may result in a rift forming between them. In fact it is through Aaron’s friendships with Desley and Donny that Thompson skilfully explores the vacillating and undetermined nature of friendships at the time of adolescence. A considerable part of Aaron’s anguish stems from the fact that others seem to misunderstand Donny and he and Aaron’s friendship. The community portrays Donny as a troublemaker or a youth who broke the rules, but Aaron and Donny’s relationship is one formed in a small town while in the transition from childhood to adulthood, when friends and acquaintances are rarely chosen but nevertheless find and leave their imprints on each other.

Another telling scene is the unexpected opening up of Reg to the young doctor, Gillian, again played by Fowler who adapts well, both complementing and leading both of the men in these scenes. Reg, with his insecurities and moments of yearning is a genuinely likeable character and Geyer’s performance is wonderfully understated. The character of Bushy (Martin Croft), the single, middle-aged teacher at Aaron’s school, comes dangerously close to being overly sentimental. But Croft always leaves a little bit to the imagination and Bushy comes across as a romantic, a storyteller, and in the end one of the few people who manages to communicate and connect to some extent with Aaron. In contrast, Fenley, as Rita, is not given an awful lot to work with. Rita is a fairly bland and unimaginative character and while Fenley adequately portrays Rita’s genuine wish for her students to further their studies, regardless of whether this is in their best interests, her performance seems a little strained.

The music by Caity Fowler and Pete Farnan could have benefited from a less dramatic transition from music to silence in once instance, but the music and voice of Fowler creates some lovely moods. The interruption of the music by the sounds of the trains is a constant reminder that outside of the town people are going places and with this knowledge, the people within the town itself cannot settle.

When the avenues of communication begin to open, Aaron and the others must decide what they want in life. As Reg discovers, life, unlike his engines or the table, cannot be fixed with simple tinkering. It is here in its ending that The Bridge distinguishes itself from many of the other stories of teenage angst and a lack of communication. It is Desley, dressed in her white deb dress, who continues to dance. Although not the way expected of her, she has come of age. The only character to know what she wants from the beginning, finds it in the very town that everyone else so desperately wants to escape.

La Mama presents

Written and directed by Chris Thompson

Venue: La Mama, 205 Faraday Street, Carlton
Dates: May 22 – June 8, 2008
Times: Wednesdays and Fridays at 8.30pm, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 6.30pm
Tickets: $20 (full) / $10 (concession)
Duration: 75 minutes approx.
Bookings: 9347 6142

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