Dan LeFranc's Greek-style tragedy about estranged siblings remains mostly opaque.
The last time Dan LeFranc had a new play premiere at American Theater Company was five years ago this month, with The Big Meal. That piece, about several generations of an American family told through their repeated gatherings around restaurant tables, stunned me so that 11 months later, I named it my favorite play of the year. LeFranc's new offering lingers on my mind as well, but more because I'm still trying to figure it out.
Bruise Easy takes place entirely in the driveway of a Southern California home, where long-gone Tess (Kelly O'Sullivan) finds her younger brother Alec (Matt Farabee) when she arrives with a suitcase, expecting their mother to be waiting for her. It eventually becomes known through their halting conversation that Tess left with their father when their parents divorced years earlier, and that their mother has some kind of mental illness issues that make Tess resentful and Alec protective.
The bruises referenced in the title show up in various ways: There are the hickeys covering Alec's torso, given by a girl at his request, and those he proceeds to give his sister at hers. There are the bruises covering their mother's body in photographs Alec shows Tess on his camera, photos he says Mom wanted her to have. (Alec keeps insisting their mother will be home any minute.) And there are the tender emotional marks on both siblings' psyches, left by past events that remain forever murky but lead the brother and sister eventually to some truly Greek-tragic behavior that's made the more uncomfortable by the unclear age difference between them.
All of this is punctuated by a Greek-style chorus of neighborhood kids, mostly played by members of ATC's Youth Ensemble in generic plastic Halloween masks. They show up periodically to provide supplemental information and foreboding, their in-unison addresses rendered in SoCal style (lots of "likes"). Though charmingly achieved in Joanie Schultz's production, the device doesn't shake the feeling of gimmickry. And while O'Sullivan and Farabee, two of the most appealing young actors in town, find moments of honest connection, whatever's going on overall at their end of the driveway seems forever beyond our grasp.
American Theater Company. By Dan LeFranc. Directed by Joanie Schultz. With Kelly O'Sullivan, Matt Farabee. Running time: 1hr 15mins; no intermission.