Friday, April 17, 2015

Review of Griffin Theatre Company's Balm in Gilead

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Balm in Gilead. It was by Lanford Wilson and it was directed by Jonathan Berry. It was about this guy named Joe (Japhet Balaban) who seems to have a pretty tough life and his number one problem is that Chuckles who is his boss is getting mad about how little drugs he is selling. He kind of falls in love with this girl Darlene (Ashleigh Lathrop) who is very sweet and who thinks that she is going to have to become a prostitute. This is a show about poverty, not really knowing if you love someone, and how drugs hurt people and make them do stuff they wouldn't normally want to do. I think that this is a really great show because it is very eye-opening about what people in poverty are forced to do.

This play is different from other shows because most of the time at the beginning you have to look around and see what you are supposed to pay attention to because everyone is talking at once. You really have to open your ears and eyes. Then sometimes the junkies that are outside of the coffee shop--Dopey (Morgan Maher), Blake (Chris Chmelik), and Ernesto (Diego Colon)--help you by freezing the picture or by telling you, "This is what you should be looking at." So then you can understand the story better. I think that this is a pretty realistic show because in a coffee shop you actually hear people overlapping talking, but then it is also not super realistic because the junkies wouldn't tell you, "Look at this. This is going to be important to the story." The characters all have a different part of the story and they are not all connected. They would all be talking about different things and you would get to know the people like you would get know people just by hearing them in a coffee shop, but the thing is in this play you get to know them over the course of three days but you don't get to know them super well. You get to have this little bit of time with them. You get to be basically in the coffee shop in their lives for just a little bit. There are some that you get to know way better than this, like Darlene, Ann (Cyd Blakewell), and Joe.

There is a love triangle between Judy (Laura Lapidus), Terry (Havalah Grace), and Rust (Ellie Reed). I think this show was kind of about love but then it kind of wasn't because the love was so wrong and strange. They didn't express their love the way you think they would express their love, because if you actually love someone then you wouldn't get into big fights in public and throw coffee cups at each other. If you actually love someone you should try to make things better and calm down instead of just flipping out. I think they all did a great job at showing how much they loved the other person but didn't really know what love was about. You also feel a lot for these characters even though you don't get to know them as well as some of the others because you know what their intentions are. And you realize they love the other person, but because no one has really loved them they don't know how to express it.

Franny (Armand Field) and David (Alexander Lane) are two transvestites who would make sassy comments and I found them very lovable because they seemed like some of the only people who never got into a big fight. They seemed like very good friends. They spent all their time with each other and they were always laughing. One of my favorite parts that showed Franny's I-don't-care-what-you-are-going-to-say attitude was when she went out into the back alley where all of the junkies were, and someone just started hitting on her and she was just like "Ok, I'll give into this. It's fine. I can do whatever I want." I respected that so much because sometimes men who dress like women aren't treated in a respectful way but Franny didn't let that scare her. She didn't care that she was a man and these people probably wanted a lady; she went ahead and gave them what they asked for. And she seemed to feel good about herself.

There is this big long story that Darlene tells to Ann. I just realized how long it must have taken to memorize that! It is basically a speech about her life and about the guy that she was going to marry. And it made you feel sorry for her because it seemed like she had had a very hard life and she didn't know what to do with herself anymore. She was talking about this long line she had to go through to get her marriage certificate and how it was probably just sitting in a box somewhere and now she would probably never see the person she was going to marry again because he eventually just moved away. That story is like an Adele song that makes me want to cry. At the beginning, Ann seemed like she didn't really care and didn't even really want to be talking to her, but then as the story goes on you can see her getting more and more interested in Darlene's life. Because it gets more and more dramatic and by the end it gets very sad.

If you don't want to know the ending. Don't read the next paragraph.

I thought it was really interesting how at the very end after Joe has been knifed in the stomach, everyone just tries to move on by trying to start over again by just going back to the beginning. But some of them can't, like Ann and Darlene. They just sit there while everyone is just moving on and repeating the lines from the beginning. I think that is trying to show us how some people can't start over after somebody they know dies, even if they haven't known them very long.

People who would like this show are people who like coffee shops, narratively helpful junkies, and awesome long monologues about waiting in line. I think that people should definitely definitely go see this show. It is very sad, but it is also has some pretty funny moments. I think it is a big spectacle because it has so many characters and there are so many different lines that you have to put together. I really loved this show. I thought that it was very interesting.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

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