In "The Bends," friends face a seismic event

Janice Rowland (left) as Gemma and Megan Slater as Lacy in Flashpoint Theatre Company's "The Bends."
Janice Rowland (left) as Gemma and Megan Slater as Lacy in Flashpoint Theatre Company's "The Bends."
Posted: March 20, 2013

Another day, another life-changing Rashomon.

The scene set by the new Megan Mostyn-Brown play The Bends presents a typical collection of 30-ish professionals in middle-class Chicago, eating conventional guacamole - but with hugely different recollections of a seismic event that sent them careening away from each other.

For all its nonthreatening surfaces, the story unfolding at Saturday's Flashpoint Theatre Company opening is a serious descendant of The Visit (successful woman returns home where men have done her wrong) and Gods of Carnage (polite veneer disintegrating with real carnage to follow) - wrapped up in 90 minutes.

Successful author Gemma reunites with college friends, having written a best-selling novel that makes them look bad. This opens up reservoirs of unresolved issues surrounding a booze-and-drug fueled seduction that went devastatingly wrong. Director Kathryn MacMillan, who commands a fine sextet of actors, writes in her program note, "Making a mess takes far less time than cleaning one up."

In her concept, these messy people clean up well, and she introduces Brechtian abstraction to this intensely realistic production: Often when characters enter a room, a magical sound effect tells you they're in a different psychological realm, whether memory or fantasy.

Though the play is 90 percent realized, its narrative based on unraveling secrets withholds information too cautiously. With a few missed dramatic opportunities, you do wonder why you're watching these people. One significant aspect succeeds: Amid the emotional wreckage, no one person is demonized. How often is there equal-opportunity compassion?

Still, lead actresses Janice Rowland and Megan Slater don't have it easy in elucidating a complicated relationship amid uncertain writing, especially with an ending in need of nuance. The best performance comes from Isa St. Clair, who plays the bimbo with lovable vulnerability and fatal volatility.

The men (Jared Michael Delaney, Charlie Del Marcelle and Walter DeShields) act like accompanists to an evening of arias: Their roles aren't as sexy but make the showier stuff possible.


The Bends

Through March 31 at the Off-Broad Street Theatre, 1636 Sansom St. Tickets: $20-$22. 215-665-9720 or www.flashpointtheatre.org


Contact culture critic David Patrick Stearns at dstearns@phillynews.com.

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