Have you ever walked down the street and seen an empty bench – perhaps one with some creative message scratched on the surface? Or maybe shiny and new? What if there were two or three people sitting on the bench chatting? Does that change your feelings about that bench?
Playwright Robert Galinsky suggests that a bench may assume a life of its own – the bench may become a reflection of the people who use it. Based on multiple social communications over the years with homeless residents of the inner city, author Galinsky has crafted a fascinating study of hopeless residents surviving in our crowded urban centers, a number which has been growing exponentially over the past decade. Galinsky, who doubles as playwright and solo performer, manages to effectively shift gears between a veteran reliving his combat memories, a truck driver whose inattention led to the accident which decimated his brain, a school teacher who was falsely accused by a student of molestation and was swept into the downward spiral of drugs and prostitution, and so many others whose back stories will touch your heart.
For these are the stories of real people who have suffered trauma beyond their capacity to handle. And so they find themselves sitting on park benches telling tales to each other as they try to maintain their humanity while under perhaps the greatest stress they have ever faced before. Perhaps the bench which has drawn these disparate people will offer some hope to lives which seem to have lost their relevance.
Director Jay O. Sanders has done as excellent job of conveying the pain – occasionally mixed with a few laughs – which are the constant companions of these homeless individuals. Daphne Arthur’s set is simple – in fact, primarily a park bench which occasionally changes its perspective. East Village Vintage Collective’s costumes nearly assume a life of their own as layers gradually cover up so many painful experiences. The audience may be both drawn in and repelled by these lives, which seem to be of so little consequence. And yet they are unable to turn their eyes away from the ugly truths being exposed. And let’s not forget a star-crossed love affair between two lost people whose love, like their baby, may be doomed to loss. But playwright Galinsky also injects a note of hope into this sad series of tales about those people lost in the depths of humanity.
THE BENCH was a runaway hit in New York. It is a powerful story, but it may also be an acquired taste – for it will take some intestinal fortitude to digest the facts in these accounts. Above all, Galinsky’s performance is a tour de force as he shares the stories of so many whom society has relegated to the periphery of life.
THE BENCH runs through 11/9/18, with performances at 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays. The Hudson Guild Theatre is located at 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90038. Tickets are $25. For information and reservations, call 323-960-7822 or go online.