Monday, 2 January 2017

SEEING IS BELIEVING: Across the Bridge movingly explores family, friendship and the power of faith

BLACK & WHITE: Tulloch (left) and Benzwick play friends whose bond is put to the test.

Across the Bridge (Probemaster Productions) 
Director: David Tulloch 
Cast: Leonie Forbes, David Tulloch, Sabrina Thomas, Christene Marshall and Jerry Benzwick 
Venue: The Phoenix Theatre, New Kingston 

A tragic loss. A stinging betrayal. A blossoming romance. This is just a fraction of what goes on in Across the Bridge, the excellent new play from writer-director-producer David Tulloch, who ends the year on a triumphant note after officially taking over Jamaican theatre in 2016. Exploring friendship, family and the power of faith, it’s a tragicomic work that’s well staged and splendidly acted by an accomplished and balanced cast. 

It tells the story of Jacob Johnson (Tulloch), an unabashed mama’s boy whose biggest dream is to become a priest and lead his own flock. He becomes so obsessed with the idea that his elderly mother, Martha Johnson (Leonie Forbes), who is dying of cancer, worries that he’s missing out on some important things like finishing his university degree and finding the right woman. As it happens, there are two young women in his life – flirty-frisky Renée (Christene Marshall), who wants to wear the ring, and his mother’s insurance agent, Nicky (Sabrina Thomas), a girl from his past who’s evolved into a statuesque beauty. 

 As he yearns to become a man of the cloth, Jacob wants to heal his mother. That’s how deep his faith runs. So you feel his pain when Martha suddenly loses her battle with The Big C, plunging everyone into mourning. Feeling betrayed by God, Jacob flies into a fit of rage and casts his religion aside. But when a terrible vehicular accident almost claims his life, he begins to see everything in a whole new light. 

Jerry Benzwick (last seen in Against His Will and A State of Affairs) adds some spice to the broth as Jacob’s fun-loving pal, Jamie, who shows his true colours before long. The entire cast is appealing, and that’s one of the show’s strongest assets – the ideal casting. 

As Jacob, Tulloch delivers his most captivating and nuanced turn since starring in Prayer Partner. Rising stars Thomas and Marshall play their small but pivotal parts with commendable grit and grace, keeping pace and holding their own with veterans Tulloch and Forbes who, as Mrs. Johnson, will remind you of that doting but strong-headed mother or grandmother who won’t hesitate to tell you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. 

Yet it is the concept of faith and believing in something greater than oneself that gives Across the Bridge its firm roots. Set design and lighting make fair contributions to the overall success of the production, where scene after scene adds something meaningful to the story, further thickening the plot. Tyrone’s Verdict: A-

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