I once asked Ernie Curcio, who penned the book for “Bright Side, The Musical,” what happens once his plays have been produced locally. He responded, “They go into a drawer. Once they’ve been done, they’re done.” So it surprised me when Director Will Adamson stated in a pre-show speech, “We think this show is on its way to Broadway.”
I sure hope that’s true because the subject deserves a lot of attention. May it get more exposure than a similar play received a few years back, because male breast cancer needs to see some daylight; it’s fighting to get there. I also hope this original play takes some stops along the way for rewrites and tweaking. The crux of male breast cancer isn’t that males “man up” through illness, it’s that they don’t know it’s possible in the first place; diagnosis embarrasses and emasculates them.
Males represent less than 1% of all cases, but relative percentages of deaths are much higher. Curcio’s podcast scene is the perfect place to bring out facts without being preachy.
There are inconsistencies, unclear timelines, and the book and Jolana Sampson’s lyrics are shot with clichés.
Things don’t jive when Richard Hauser, played by Bob Torti, states, “So, I let him be,” referring to his seventeen-year old son, Aiden, played by Maverick Hiu, then relentlessly barks at him. Though the parents both hail from Georgia, there isn’t a single word nor Southern turn of phrase, or colloquialism, to be found. We don’t need the dialect. Plenty of people move around the country and lose it through sheer determination. A single mammogram slide—after surgery to remove tumorous cells—doesn’t prove remission of Stage Four cancer.
Mom Shelly Hauser (Victoria Matlock) has been deployed to a war zone when she’s told Richard has breast cancer, which has spread to lymphatic system, internal organs, and bones. Via Skype, he’s wheelchair-bound, and she says she’ll be home in a few days. There’s no time lapse, no transitional scene or dialogue to her husband’s remission, but he’s suddenly out of the wheelchair, moving easily about with a cane, when she’s killed in action before she can return.
When Richard sings “As God is my witness,” my mind first leapt to “Stars” from “Les Miserable,” then to Scarlett shaking her fist vowing to never go hungry again. Richard calls his son “pansy,” “wuss,” and “pussy” in an effort to toughen him up. Aiden follows that with “His bark is worse than his bite.”
Maverick Hiu is amazing as Aiden. Every minute he’s on stage he’s in the moment. His expressions, his body language, everything shows us he’s listening to the other actors. He plays a true range of emotions using his entire instrument with pure honesty; nothing rings as false. He plays a delirium scene with fervor but perfectly in check, the performance always balanced. Top that off with glorious vocals. He’s a joy to watch. If things fall into place, this young man is going places.
Matlock plays her scenes fairly well. She’s the sex kitten at one point, tough military officer at another, but a lot of it feels surface. Particularly when she’s angry with her husband for keeping her in the dark about his illness, she becomes all posture and posing rather than digging for truth. She sure can turn a song, though. It’s there she really shines, allowing emotion to register.
The role of Richard Hauser is written as a man’s man, the macho guy, but Torti comes across as pure asshole. There’s no other way to describe it. Rather than using the dialogue to come across as tough-love, Torti imbues it with pure meanness as he forces his son through batteries of exercises. During his fight with cancer, there’s no real sense of close-to-death sheer weariness of the Red Death Chemo patient. Even when he’s alone on the stage the slightest bit of pain never colors his voice. You want to like him, you want to feel sympathy, you want to be in his corner and root for him, but Torti doesn’t illicit any of it because he’s playing it as caricature.
Marcus Weiss plays the Doctor. The role is written for comedic relief, which is needed amongst all the angst of dealing with such a serious subject. Here, Curcio’s dialogue is sufficient enough to provide the comedy. Weiss delivers it over-the-top, loud and obnoxious, and, consequently, comes across as buffoonish. The audience ate it up.
The music, composed by Jolana Sampson and Martin Kaye with arrangements by Kaye, has a nice mixture of sounds, rhythms, and melodies. Though no one song will haunt you after leaving the theater, and I’d be hard pressed to call out what is commonly referred to as the eleven o’clock number, the entirety is well done.
For all its inherent flaws, “Bright Side” shows promise. Curcio has written some stellar plays and, in the long run, this musical will succeed. It must succeed. It’s too important a work.
What: Bright Side, The Musical
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays, through June 5
Note: No performance June 3, due to First Friday
Where: Art Square Theatre, 1025 S First St, #110
Tickets: $16 - $20 (www.cockroachtheatre.com, 702- 818-3422)
Grade: *** Satisfying