Williamston Theatre’s ‘Bright Half Life’ explores ‘the infinite moments that make a relationship’


There’s an old adage that the time it takes to completely get over the death of a relationship is approximately half the length of time the relationship lasted. In pondering Williamston Theatre’s production of “Bright Half Life,” by Tanya Barfield, I was drawn to an entry from Encyclopedia Britannica: “Half-life: the interval of time required for one-half of the atomic nuclei of a radioactive sample to decay by emitting particles and energy.”

“Bright Half Life” chronicles the decades-long relationship of Erica (Dani Cochrane) and Vicky (Tamara PiLar) through a rapid series of flashbacks and fast-forwards. The hour-long, two-woman play, written one year before gay marriage was legalized, premiered off-Broadway at the Women’s Project Theater in 2015. The non-linear approach allows Barfield to quickly sequence through office romance, dating, marriage proposals, child rearing, buying furniture, competing careers, interracial relationships, ennui and despair, divorce, cancer, and skydiving in a fluid stream of memories often repeated and retold again and again.

Scenic designer Jennifer Maiseloff and lighting designer Rachael Nardecchia have created a gorgeous, dreamy backdrop for the actresses with muted blue swirls and soft, diffused light, redolent of the warm and murky territory between being awake and asleep, alive and dead, or perhaps the first thing you would notice if you jumped out of an airplane. Except for the obvious choice of LGBTQ+ icon Joan Jett’s “Crimson and Clover,” played during the brief romance sequences, sound designer Suzi Regan’s musical choices are both plucky and evocative.

It’s always difficult to find fault with the professional talent that Williamston attracts, and this performance is no exception. Cochrane and PiLar fluently spring from one memory to the next with impeccable timing and inexhaustible energy, shifting from infatuation to heartache to irritation to attraction to joy almost mid-sentence.

PiLar has carved out a queenly, subtle complexity in Vicky. I first saw Cochrane in Williamston’s “On the Market” last fall, and while she does rom-com with facile, energetic aplomb, one has the sense that in this show, she’s out of her element with the intimacy between the two characters. Perhaps that’s the point. There’s a telling scene between Vicky and Erica while they’re riding a Ferris wheel on their third date. In response to Erica’s fear of heights and terror over their vulnerability in the air, Vicky says, “It’s a gondola, not a cage.” A rose by any other name.

When we eventually discover that after raising children, divorcing and moving on with their lives, Vicky has terminal cancer, one can’t help but extend the comparison of coupledom to the first law of thermodynamics: In death, the assortment of atoms that make up a life are repurposed. No energy is destroyed. Perhaps relationships never “die” but continue on as long as memories last.


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