‘Bully Dance’ a Monochromatic Study in Pain (3 Stars)

Bully Dance, written by David Valdes Greenwood, directed by Sarah Gazdowicz. Presented by Argos Productions at Boston Playwrights Theatre. 949 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA, through March 22.

The slow solemn procession that begins David Valdes Greenwood’s latest play “Bully Dance” is both ritualistic and revealing. Six characters come in one at a time, remove their shoes and face the audience, in various degrees of pain, angst and upset. All but one sit down for an Easter dinner that never happens, confronting one another with their accusations and hatred. What is the event that binds these people?  

The play is an exploration of what it means to live in a world where violence is committed with little regard for consequence, where a simple family trip on a bus can be fraught with life or death circumstances, where answering a knock on the door can prove to be fatal. How do we live in this world without losing our humanity?

Christopher Nourse plays Travis, a young man who goes on a quest to extinguish known pedophiles. Why he does this is never revealed – he hasn’t been the victim of one himself to anybody’s knowledge.  All we know is that pedophiles are on his list of dislikes, a list that is discovered on his laptop after the crimes have been committed. Nourse does a really good job expressing both the character’s youthful vulnerability and anger. He manages to look both sorry and insouciant.  

As Nola, Juliet Bower is compassionate and sober. She has a strong stage presence, and serves the play well as its moral center.  Lida McGirr is excellent as Alice, the wife of one of the victims. Adam Lauver as Man is very good, slipping in and out of four or five roles effortlessly. The rest of the cast is also good, although some of the Boston accents were touch and go.

The well designed set is very somber but practical – a table is used as a table, then a podium, a grave, the interior of a bus.  All six of the actors move well, giving the piece its choreographed feel.

None of the loose ends of the piece get neatly tied up, just like they don’t in real life. Still, this is not an easy play to sit through. Most of it is played under very low lighting, which has an overall sleepy and depressing effect. Although the characters have been through their share of trauma, we really don’t know enough of their back story to feel for them. At just one hour and fifteen minutes, “Bully Dance” can only accomplish so much with such a large topic. The lighting, the mournful requiem that serves as background music, the characters’ relentless pain – there was no relief.  Which was probably the playwright’s point, but for this news weary audience member, it was a little much.

That said, kudos to Argos Productions for taking a chance on such a brave piece.  The commitment from the cast was 100 percent and in a six-character piece, Valdes Greenwood managed to write lead roles for four women, three of them older.  This in itself was worth the price of admission. For more info, go to: http://www.argosproductions.com/bully-dance.html