Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
The Brightest Thing in the World
The initial setting, in 2016, is a bakery called Revival in Lexington, Kentucky. Lane (Katherine Romans) brings out various cakes and pastries, all quite enticing even from a distance, for customer Steph (Michele Selene Ang). During a significant early portion of the performance, these two go back and forth and it is obvious that, while they are very different people, they find one another quite appealing. It is not until later that their relationship evolves from conversational to intimate.
It is to playwright Winkler's credit that she does not rush into the more cogent thematic material. The third individual who gradually becomes impactful is Lane's older sister, Della (Megan Hill), who hasn't been all that successful finding a soulmate. Lane has been sharing living space with Della, and a successive scene occurs at Christmas. Designer Cat Raynor, whose initial bake shop setting is both detailed and friendly, now adorns a living room with cute holiday trappings.
Winkler hooks the viewer early on in this breezy, drama/romance/humor piece with catchy dialogue and croissants. Toss in some contemporary issue-oriented discussion about gun violence and the work succeeds through multiple dimensions. Soon, the crux of its thematic core, drug abuse and its ramifications, is evident. Lane proclaims that Revival Cafe is so named because it is situated just across from a facility that addresses addiction, and Steph learns that Lane herself is a heroin addict. Steph, too, has a revealing past which informs some intense exchanges. From this point forward, the action proceeds with greater complexity and depth.
Midway through the presentation, Lane delivers a monologue that divulges the spiral of her addiction. She wonders whether fully informing and including Steph might preclude the end of their relationship. It's all open, honest and increasingly emotional.
A three-person dance number highlights a late segment of the play. Complete with Graham Zellers' glaring lighting and Emily Duncan Wilson's blaring sound, this is an arresting scene. Katherine Romans is especially winning with her dance malleability. (The dazzling light bulb shine, by the way, would probably challenge anyone with vision disorders.) The sequence is vastly uplifting, and perhaps that might have been a fine conclusion. Instead, Winkler's finale finds Steph and Della sitting on a bench one year later. As it stands, the ending is probably the only section of the evening that isn't replete with surprise, but the author does drive home her pivotal message.
Throughout, cast members demonstrate a feel for Winkler's words, and the overall performance breathes with life. There is affection, agitation, sensitivity, and plenty of compassion, too. A warm, insightful new play, its reality seems authentic and the genre of live theater is such a fine vehicle for both this sort of telling and showing.
The Brightest Thing in the World runs through December 17, 2022, at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel St., New Haven CT. For information and tickets, call 203-432-1234 or visit yalerep.org.