Bank Street Theater. By Cusi Cram. Dir. Suzanne Agins. With ensemble cast. 1hr 20 mins. No intermission.
Cusi Cram’s previous Off Broadway effort, A Lifetime Burning, turned on a woman faking her way through a memoir. In Radiance, receiving its world premiere via the Labyrinth Theater Company, Cram fictionalizes a crazy, overlooked bit of American and television history: a 1955 episode of This Is Your Life that featured a Hiroshima survivor meeting Robert Lewis, one of the pilots who dropped the atomic bomb that ended World War II. That’s a premise laced with philosophical potential and moral ambiguity, right? You’d think—but, lacking dramatic urgency, this well-intentioned piece stumbles at the start, and Suzanne Agins’s sluggish production never recovers.
Having left the television studio, purportedly over money, Rob (Kohl Sudduth) walks into a bar (you can almost smell the stale smoke and gin emanating from David Meyer’s deliciously dumpy set) and meets May (Ana Reeder), who reminds him of a past love. Let the pontificating and flashbacks begin. The vitality of Cram’s best dialogue (a Hiroshima survivor’s face is described as “a bowl of melted ice cream”) can’t compensate for dramaturgical instability, and Sudduth never reaches the core of his character’s inner turmoil. The most keenly evocative moment occurs at the end, when we hear an excerpt from the actual 1955 broadcast. Sometimes art is a poor imitation of life.—Diane Snyder