The Launch Prize
One of the pleasures of reviewing theater is the rare occasion that you encounter a smart fresh production by a young playwright and new company. Such is the case with Bridge Rep's "The Launch Prize" currently playing at the BCA.
MJ Halberstadt is a local playwright that is a "proud alumnus" of both Emerson College and Boston University. His plot focuses on four visual art students, who are all up for the same cash award, as they install their MFA thesis shows.
The award letters have arrived, but they decide to wait on the arrival of their mentor in order to open them. As they discuss each other's chances of winning, the camaraderie begins to crumble and latent issues surrounding race and identity begin to emerge.
On the surface, the plot could easily become pedantic. However, Mr. Halberstadt's writing is taut and direct. Unlike many early career playwrights, he avoids excessive description and soliloquies and instead allows action to provide depth to these characters.
These people are also self-aware. Even when they behave in a way that could be called stereotypical, the effect is tempered because you know they are aware of it. This adds a maturity both to the characters and the script itself.
Director Tiffany Nichole Greene has done an admirable job of not letting the play wallow in the larger social and political issues. The pacing is quick. But this seems natural for a group of students preparing for the biggest night of their lives thus far. And the ensemble she has gathered is outstanding.
Katherine Chen Lerner, Bari Robinson, Angela K Thomas, and John Tracey are equally matched and have a completely believable dynamic on stage. There is not a weak link in this group and each has a moment to shine.
The only possible (minor) misstep with this production is the use of similar abstract imagery to represent the artwork for each. While the abstraction allows the audience to focus on the characters instead of reacting to their art, that really is a major question in this play - can you separate the person from the artwork? Without giving away the full plot, there is a moment for each where it might have been possible to do this and further complicate the questions being presented.
"The Launch Prize" proves that new and exciting work is not just happening at A.R.T. or The Huntington. Boston has a fringe theater scene as well and you never know what you may find. This play would be a good place to start that exploration.
"The Launch Prize" continues through March 20, 2016 at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St, Boston, MA. For further information visit the Bridge Repertory Theater of Boston website.