Playful Substance Theater Company-Pithy Party
Playful Substance, one of NY’s premiere indie arts organizations known for fostering emerging writers, went “retro” and presented a telethon fundraising event of three programs. Writer-at-large, JEN BUSH, covered the event. This is Part I
Under the Bridge
Written by-Jacqueline Reason
Cast-Naila Negron, Brianna Suarez-Thomas, Anastacia Tucker and Jeorge Bennett Watson
Review by Jen Bush-12/7/21
Artists have a voice, a vision and a story to tell through mediums such as art, music and theater. What they need is an opportunity. Playful substance provides those crucial opportunities as well as support to artists. This is what Playful Substance is all about in their own words:
Playful Substance is a New York based theater company dedicated to fostering new works through our Writers Groups, developmental workshops, community events and fully staged productions. We believe that lifelong artist development, work-life balance, and the vitality of an inclusive creative space are integral to the artist’s practice. “Playful Substance” is the mission; substantive work approached with joy, cooperation, sensitivity and humor.
Their Pithy Party is an annual event putting Playful Substance’s writer’s groups in the spotlight with staged readings featuring excerpts of works in progress directed and read by company members and friends. This year’s event was roughly four hours long and showcased 10 writers, 10 directors and 30 cast members. The live performances were spread out over 3 seatings. The online performance featured bonus content such as artist interviews and a more in-depth look at Playful Substance.
If I’m a little biased toward Under the Bridge, kindly forgive me. You see, I was born and raised in The Bronx and remained there till just a few years ago. I was eating up all the familiar references with great nostalgia in my heart. Regardless, my love of the Boogie Down does not detract from the fact that this was a quality production on every level.
The playwright describes this production as a story of 3 women of color living in a white neighborhood in the 70’s. The 3 women are Laura, her mother and her sister. Laura is a teenager living in The South Bronx. That geographical area experienced horrific fires in the 70’s. Laura just experienced her first “house party” while hiding behind the couch. When she couldn’t contain her laughter listening to a Richard Pryor comedy album, everyone got in trouble. Laura’s mom was not pleased. House parties were very popular in The Bronx in that era and gave rise to the genre of music known as Hip Hop. Between the fires and bad influences surrounding her children, Laura’s mother is seeking a better life for her family. She successfully finds a doorman apartment in Riverdale.
Riverdale is considered to be an elite section of The Bronx though it’s still The Bronx. If you ask someone from Riverdale where they live, they will never utter the words, The Bronx. I think it’s forbidden. They always look at you square in the eye and say with unwavering pride, I’m from Riverdale. There is even a line in the play that references that phenomenon. Laura’s friend Yvonne says, “Isn’t Riverdale The Bronx?” Laura says, “Yeah but it’s near Yonkers.” For a frame of reference, Yonkers is very nice but it’s no Beverly Hills. The great comic book artist Howard Chaykin referred to Yonkers as a better Bronx. I would agree with that as I now reside there.
Under the Bridge has themes of urban life, teenage life and race relations. It has substance and heart. This production will make you laugh and break your heart all in one evening. In the 70’s, Riverdale did not embrace having people of color reside there and some very sad and telling dialogue in the play reflected that fact.
The acting was rock solid with everyone matching beautifully to their roles. The actors crafted subtle maturity, tenderness, sassiness and humor. It definitely leaves the audience wanting to see more of young Laura’s journey.
It’s a rare treat to see a play and then get the author’s perspective immediately following the performance. After the production of Under the Bridge, Jacqueline Reason was briefly interviewed. This was the third time that she participated in Pithy Party. It was so interesting to find out that this play began from a poem. It was the author’s desire to bring to life fully dimensional characters. I can say with certainty, this desire was fully achieved.