In “Bright Half-Life,” four decades flash back and forth, sometimes within seconds. Swinging between the life stages leading up to marriage and those that come with having kids, the story is a blur. For the weekend of April 27–29 in the Hepburn Zoo, four groups of audiences were taken into the mystifying, unchronological world of the play “Bright Half-Life,” where two young-adults-turned-parents experience the beauty and struggle of a 40-plus year relationship. The performance and its production also happened to be Meili Huang ’23’s senior work in acting, Will Napper ’23’s senior work in lighting design and Aidan Amster ’23.5’s senior work in directing — an impressive feat by these three thespians.
Huang and Napper decided to act in the play after having worked together for the past four years, starting in 2019 with their first-year show. For Huang, the play presented a unique challenge to discover who her character Vicky truly is, and let Vicky’s relationship with Erica (M Stiffler ’23) come to life.
According to the playbill, playwright Tanya Barfield noted that the aim of the play is to highlight relationships, not characters. As a result, while Huang and Stiffler were very focused on their characters’ individual identities, Huang also saw how transcendent the story could be through a radical emphasis on Vicky and Erica’s relationship.
“The relationship is so universal, despite being with very particular identities on stage, because you can see it play out in any long-term relationship,” Huang said.
In the play, lighting accomplishes what rapid set changes typically would. As time switches back and forth and out of order, decades can pass within a line of dialogue leaving no time for a traditional set change. Napper explained how he worked closely with the stage manager to realize the light design.
“The playwright said no two transitions can be the same, and I tried to make them distinct as possible. This is a show where I really need to listen to my stage manager,” Napper said.
At 8:18 p.m. during the Thursday show, the fire alarm went off in Hepburn Hall. Time stood still for a few seconds as Huang and Stiffler maintained the eye contact necessary for the scene. They non-verbally communicated with a large sigh, a hug and a laugh that they were breaking character as everyone started to evacuate the Hepburn Zoo.
Audience member Arthur Martins ’23.5 reflected on the deep nature of how quickly the thoughts of fire when the alarm went off broke the bubble of fantasy that theater brings us into.
“At a time when our stories are under the threat of being interrupted, the beautiful irony was how the fire alarm that stopped from bearing witness to a queer love story brought us together in a beautiful way,” Martins said.
Indeed, the sentiment as the actors returned to stage was one unity, and a lighter, less stressful atmosphere emerged within the audience as well as with the two actors.
However, Amster, the play’s director, was not informed of the planned fire drill ahead of time.
“I am grateful to have had a cast and crew that quickly and successfully adapted to the circumstances,” said Amster. “But I also hope that going forward, those involved with the planning and scheduling of drills will take into consideration the performances that so many on our campus put so much time into.”
The play returned to normal, and the second half proved even more powerful than the first, as the children of the couple presented their own joys and stresses. By the end of the play, audience members teared up sharing the sentiments of Vicky and Erica.