Straight out of a Hollywood rom-com, two young women meet cute at a trendy Kentucky bakery where free-spirit Lane (Katherine Romans) is serving the coffee and pastries. The more reserved and intellectual Steph (Michele Selene Ang) feigns indifference but slowly warms under Lane’s insistent charms. A romance ensues…with bumps along the way, naturally. Currently on stage at the Yale Repertory Theatre, The Brightest Thing in the World is a world premiere by Leah Nanako Winkler. The play has been commissioned by Yale Rep and ultimately proves an odd and rather conventional choice for the usually more adventurous theatre.
Covering a three year period (2016-19) and set in Lexington, Kentucky, The Brightest Thing in the World covers familiar romantic ground albeit with a same-sex bent. The ladies are obviously perfect for each other but we soon learn that Steph is a single mom whose parents are raising her child and Lane is a recovering heroin addict. Lane also has a successful older sister, Della (Megan Hill, sucking all the oxygen out of the room) who is unmarried and used to playing mother to her wayward sister. With a running time of just over 95 minutes (without intermission) the play proceeds with little surprise or invention. By its final scene you may find yourself thinking, ”Well… that was a play”, and little else.
Director Margot Bordelon has elicited very broad performances from her actors who seem to be having a great time working together. There’s some charm here to be sure especially in the quieter moments which, upon reflection, seem few and far between. Miss Ang’s occasional loud outbursts, for example, can shatter glass while straining credulity in the process. Even in a hectic sequence where an overdose victim is splayed on the floor clinging to life, Bordelon goes for big laughs and broad business which only works if your name is Tarantino and the movie is “Pulp Fiction”.
Scenic Designer Cat Raynor provides two lovely settings for the play that includes the aforementioned bakery as well as Della’s upscale home decorated festively for Christmas. Graham Zellers’ lighting has some magical touches that enhance the mood and Travis Chinick’s costumes are individually distinctive for each actress.
The Brightest Thing in the World continues at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel Street in New Haven through December 17. Masks are required. For further information, call the box office at: 203.432.1234 or visit: www.yalerep.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.