Something extraordinary is occurring at the new AMT THEATER in midtown Manhattan. Actually, a number of things are at this sterling rehabilitated Off Broadway venue that offers a variety of theatrical events during the course of a week. However, this concerns what is presently playing there on Sundays at 3 P.M. and 7:30 P.M. and Mondays at 8:00 P.M.at least through September 10th.
It’s a self-evident Tour de Force offered by Jessica Hendy holding the audience rapt in the intimate 99 seat house with her true personal recounting of the several years’ experience of raising her son, Beckett, nicknamed “Bubbles”, as a single divorcee chiefly in NYC, while it soon becomes apparent in her narrative that the father of Beckett has had a series of severe nervous breakdowns and became homeless. The father’s name is Adam and his is a tale of nearly unrelenting woe. This is due to a bi-polar condition that was centuries ago referred to as “melancholia”, and as recently as forty or fifty years ago, “manic depression.”.
This is not the normal theme of a musical, even after, “Next To Normal”, the Broadway hit from a few seasons back, and the fact that Ms. Hendy appeared in the regional premiere production of that esteemed work in her hometown of Cincinnati and subsequently received an Acclaim Award there, in no way surprises me.
Jessica Hendy is nothing less than a revelation to these eyes and ears and I feel cheated that I’d been ignorant of her immense talents until this past week. To begin, her acting is first rate. She indeed plays herself in this first-person narrative, but seamlessly portrays all the other characters in her story consisting of her son from age six, I believe, onward through the years; as well as the bedeviled, Adam, both her parents, various friends, her counselor, her attorney, a rescuing woman at a Target store and probably a few more than my memory serves without benefit of the script.
The script itself is crisp, unsentimental, engaging, humorous, invariably credible, and ultimately, deeply moving. All of which is enhanced by Hendy’s close collaborator, Brianna Kothari Barnes who has composed the music and lyrics of the seven songs sung by the storyteller, and may I say, sung superbly.
Hendy has a number of significant Broadway musical credits; among them, Grizabella in “Cats”. This means of course that her singing chops needs be in the league of Elaine Paige and Betty Buckley. No sweat. Hendy’s not merely in that league, but with this personal tale, she creates, along with Ms. Barnes, a league of their own!
The scenic design of Mark Halpin and lighting of Aiden Bezark is economical and entirely persuasive . Technical supervision is provided by Brent Michael Jones and the music supervision of Jacob Yates realizes fully the music preparation of Ryan Shirar and should manifest shared pride. Ms. Barnes plays a guitar accompaniment of her music that is delicate and always tasteful as the piano of Alexandra Crosby ably supports Hendy sing the extension of her tale replete a gamut of emotions, sometimes to the astonishment of this reviewer, wondering just how she gets through this show in one piece while making it all look easy.
Richard Hess helms the entirety and does so with utmost sensitivity and honest method in making sure that “the play’s the thing” that captures our collective conscience.
Untreated psychosis due to a patient’s obdurate character and involuntary chemical imbalance has led to a nearly infinite number of tragedies. There is nary a person in our culture that has not been touched to varying degree the dilemma of mental illness, either in themselves or a loved one. The percentage of homeless persons in this city, as well as nearly every town of all populations in this nation due to mental illness is staggering.”
In 1942, Thorton Wilder wrote in a letter to the young Montgomery Clift appearing as Henry in the playwright’s, “The Skin Of Our Teeth”:
“I regard the theater as the greatest of all art forms…. the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”
It is my contention that that is exactly what Ms. Hendy and her highly talented collaborators are doing with this work of art.
“Walking With Bubbles” has partnered with “WIN” (formerly Women In Need) the largest provider of shelter and supportive services for homeless families with children in NYC.
That is merely an additional inducement to behold this remarkable piece of first-rate theater. I can conceive of no offering of the present New York Theater scene that provides more “bang for your buck” ,nor nourishment for your psyche and soul than, “Walking With Bubbles”.
Go the next Sunday matinee, evening, or Monday eve that you can.
You’ll wish to thank me.
I suggest that you thank this cast and crew by spreading the word.
Photos: Courtesy of “Walking with Bubbles”
“WALKING WITH BUBBLES” at AMT THEATER 354 W. 45th St. NYC. Tickets and information
One Person Show Created, Written and Performed by JESSICA HENDY
Music and Lyrics by BRIANNA KOTHARI BARNES
Directed by RICHARD HESS- Produced by TOM D’ANGORA and MICHAEL D’ANGORA
With Scott Coulter and Dave Gaebler, Vibecke Dahle, Dellapolla, and Jill Wilkinson
in association with Erica Hess and Dame Productions