The Brightest Thing in the World – Review by Tom Nissley

It might have been obvious to some persons, and eventually it was obvious to most of us, but the REVIVAL Coffee Shop that was the setting for the recurring images that began this intriguing new play was designed to be a boutique bakery and coffee pavilion that was managed by persons in recovery.

We could have guessed, perhaps, from the cheery greeting “Hi, I’m Lane. What can I get you?” which accompanied the original set, until Steph complained about the cheerful voice, and one day Lane lowered it to a growl.

What was more obvious, I think, to most of us was that Lane (Katherine Romans) was romantically interested in Steph (Michele Selene Ang), and that Steph returned the favor – each one upping the bids until the two of them finally acknowledged their mutual attraction with a hug and then a kiss, followed by a dash into the back room where they hugged and kissed again.

We (meaning audience folks) are not particularly used to seeing two young women giving deep kisses on stage, but that’s only part of what playwright Leah Nanaka Winkler has in store for us as Lane and Steph get close. Margot Bordelon skillfully directs this world premiere. A third character, Della (Megan Hill) is Lane’s sister in the play. She provides a parent figure for Lane, who is not on good terms with their parents.

There is a story line which evolves rapidly once Lane and Steph agree to become an item. Lane is a recovering Heroin addict, and although she has been sober for several months when they first meet, she has relapses and finds awkward ways to obtain more drugs at times. Steph, it turns out, once became impregnated and had a child who lives with her parents, but Steph is not on good terms with them — something she shares with Lane. Della is a stand-in parent for both Lane and Steph, and she is searching for a friend on a dating site. All of them get excited when Della accepts a plan to have a date with someone she’s met on the site.

Ms. Winkler’s script allows us to view the extent of the downside of each of these three women and how they search for love and/or acceptance beyond the level of how they manage living in the here and now. At one point she has them dancing together exuberantly, as if their dreams had all come true. At another she reveals the rage and frustration of how their dreams have turned to dust.

There are a lot of persons who should be acknowledged for their work on this production. Cal Raynor, scenic designer, for his depiction of the coffee shop and Della’s apartment. Travis Chinick, for the costumes. Graham Zellers lighting, which was so important for the sequenced scenes which moved the plot through three years in time and spun a multiverse of circles of tiny lights when Lane and Steph disappeared into the intimate space of the back room.

There is one thing that all premieres have in common, and that is that wherever they go next, they may become a little tighter, or drop a scene, or change in some other way. It’s possible that that will happen with ‘The Brightest Thing in the World,’ but for the moment it’s well worth visiting Yale Rep to see it. Tickets can be purchased at 203-432-1234.

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre December 12, 2022