Collapsed Bridge of Nightmares at La MaMa 

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Stopped Bridge of Dreams
Written and directed by John Jesurun

That’s an evocative title, Stopped Bridge of Dreams. But in the production of this new John Jesurun play at La MaMa (through February 5), there’s entirely too much stopping and not enough bridges and dreams; what I saw felt like a tech rehearsal, not a finished version for viewing. Black-Eyed Susan, the downtown actress who made and chose her name as a performer in Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatre Company in the 1970s, is cast here as a mother and businesswoman on a kind of floating plane or boat, locked in recriminatory dialogue with her son Hiroshi, played by Preston Martin. Susan has a distinctively smoky voice, a very 1970s voice, plain and highly neurotic, which she applies to Jesurun’s adaptations and appropriations of various Japanese texts, but it quickly became clear that she didn’t know her lines well enough yet, and so there were stumbles in practically every scene, so that finally the only suspense was waiting for the next stumble. Consequently, there was no point when she could connect with her character or with the audience, and a text that might have been vague even with more decisive acting kept getting ever vaguer. The multimedia elements, long a staple of Jesurun’s work, add little or nothing here to the haze or doubt continually on display.

Martin reads his lines in a flat Southern drawl, and he isn’t skilled enough, as Louis Cancelmi was in Jesurun’s production of Philoktetes at Soho Rep, to give the kind of affectless performance Jesurun favors and still illuminate the byways of the text. On this vessel, high-paying guests need to be constantly entertained, often for hours on end, and it’s up to the workers on board to please them, whether it’s by singing songs in the nude, as Hiroshi is said to do, or reciting the entirety of plays by Tennessee Williams like A Streetcar Named Desire or Suddenly, Last Summer. There are even intimations of Psycho in the vexed relationship between mother and son, and the text keeps coming back to the subject of abortion, but all of these references and obsessions just lap against the shore of this production’s general unreadyness. As Claire, another hooker on board ship, Claire Buckingham also seems unsure of herself and unclear about who she is and what she should be doing. Stopped Bridge of Dreams has a website that is supposed to “chart the geography of the characters’ relationships and histories,” and there are going to be guest performers playing roles, like Buck Henry. It would have been better, though, to focus on getting this play ready for an audience and not scattering focus with websites and stunt casting.

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(Photo: Darien Bates)

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