Review: ‘Bright Half Life’ starts Persephone season on a tremendous high note

Kris Alvarez and Margo MacDonald feature in 'Bright Half Life' at Persephone Theatre. The show runs from Sept. 13 to Oct. 1, 2023. (Supplied / Photo by Olivia Swerhone-Wick, Persephone Theatre)

From kites to ferris wheels to skydiving, Bright Half Life tackles ambitious heights with grace and gusto. The opening show of Persephone Theatre’s 2023/2024 season is a perfect example of how live theatre can simultaneously be hilarious and heartbreaking. 

Bright Half Life masterfully follows two characters, Vicky (Kris Alvarez) and Erica (Margo Macdonald), in an out-of-order time-skip throughout their relationship. The show bounces back and forth through time spanning forty-five years, and it exhibits the ups and downs of life together: meeting, falling in love, having kids, getting married, losing love and growing up — though not necessarily in that order.

Scenes are spliced together and constantly provide only parts of their relationship, only to have those same scenes revisited and finished later on. The story is jigsawed together over the span of the play so that blanks are slowly filled in.

Tanya Barfield’s script is a work of genius. It manages a complex storytelling technique in the clearest and most effective way possible.  It is simple but layered, and it is human to its core. Coupled with powerhouse performances from Macdonald and Alvarez, brilliant directing from Kathryn Smith and a magical and highly effective set design from Hanne Loosen, this show was built for success. 

Notable mentions in the category of levity include a scene on a Ferris wheel that had the audience laughing loudly. This was outdone, however, by Vicky’s incredible dance moves, which made two appearances to the audience’s delight.

On the more moving side, there is a scene early on that makes a repeat appearance near the end where Erica hesitates to say “I love you.” She instead tells Vicky, “I don’t want it to fade.” This line gathers momentum and meaning as the play goes on, and it touches the heart.

While some plays dive into the depths of trauma and tragedy, this play manages to authentically capture difficult moments of life without wallowing or completely depressing theatregoers. And it lightens the mood with genuine laughter and silliness. This makes Bright Half Life accessible to a large audience. 

That being said, not all audience members may be able to easily follow the broken timeline. The show manages to make the transitions quite clear and interesting, but it could still be difficult for those who are strictly linear thinkers. For those viewers, the program includes a timeline of events, so do not be deterred if you fall into this category. 

This is a wise beginning to Persephone’s season and it is a fantastic journey for its audiences. In capturing the layers of life and time, Bright Half Life is beautiful in the happiest and saddest ways.

Bright Half Life runs until Oct. 1 at Persephone Theatre. Tickets can be purchased online at persephonetheatre.org.

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