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Don’t Take the Bridge on Off-Off-Broadway

March 2, 2013 by · 3 comments

Jasmina Tacheva

Evgenia Radilova and Tony Naumovski4_Don't Take the Bridge_onewaytheater.us_Photo by Pavel Antonov
Снимка: Pavel Antonov – Evgeniya Radilova and Tony Naumovski – Don’t Take the Bridge,

The world premiere of Mayia Pramatarova‘s latest play Don’t Take the Bridge took place at the 4th Street Theatre, New York, less than a month ago. The performance of a Bulgarian play on 4th Street – an epitome of Off-Off-Broadway theater – is in and of itself a great accomplishment for the international team of with participants of Bulgarian, American, Russian and Australian origin.

In the play, the timeless questions of life, soul, cosmos and a rent-controlled apartment join the bustling reality of present-day New York to form a curious amalgam of the love between the two main characters – the kind-hearted native of Manhattan, Sam (son), and the beautiful and ambitious Delilah – newly arrived to NYC from a country somewhere in Eastern Europe, possibly on the Balkans.

The show is based on real events and incorporates a wide variety of Chekhovian motives. It follows the turbulent relationship of the two – from the moment they fall in love through the process of routine mechanization when feelings yield precedence to habit and emotional fatigue, to the ambiguous ending of the play when the various major and minor plot lines in the script come together to answer some questions posed earlier and leave others open for the spectator to figure out.

Photo by Pavel Antonov_Evgeniya Radilova and Tony Naumovski_Don't Take the Bridge_onewaytheater.us_NYC
Photo: Pavel Antonov – Evgeniya Radilova and Tony Naumovski – Don’t Take the Bridge,

Don’t Take the Bridge is full of witty and canny symbolism and allegories that build a unity between the classic wisdom of the past, the burning issues of the present and the irony, inevitability and uncertainty of the future. Despite the warning in the title of the play it does build a multitude of bridges between otherwise irreconcilably opposing notions such as fantasy and reality, Mythos and Logos, intuition and knowledge, feeling and reason, youth and old age, conviviality and reclusion, hope and resignation etc.

The scenography and multimedia of Vladimir Gusev interact with the resonant musical contribution of Maestro Gheorghi Arnaoudov in a laconic but remarkably expressive way, by helping to build images and meanings and widening the symbolic horizons underlying the script. The audience sees a big wooden box on wheels that, with one of its walls removed, reminds us of a New York apartment; when a second wall falls, it brings about a new association – of a path, a way to change and revival, which turns the exterior into an interior for the bed of the two lovers.

Evgeniya Radilova_Tony Naumovski3_Don't Take the Bridge_onewytheater.us_Photo by Pavel Antonov
Photo: Pavel Antonov – Evgeniya Radilova and Tony Naumovski – Don’t Take the Bridge,

These and many other subtle changes of the exterior suggest the dynamic transitions within the two characters and take the story of the play out of its specific location to place it into the much larger context of today’s world which, having shaken off the burden of the past and old age and experienced the newly acquired lightness, is nonetheless facing the risk of missing the point of the present.

In that vein, language, imagery, sound and eurhytmics meet at the crossroads of the performance in which the skillful direction of Stavri Karamfilov codifies the implicit messages of the script. They become visible to the audience through the actor who leads it along this path covered with hidden symbols and signs. Space itself becomes a character that spurs Sam and Delilah in such a way that they fail to see how their love has been suppressed by routine and their feelings have given way to habit and emotional fatigue, until the next turning point in the plot where every answer will raise a new question.

Photo by Pavel Antonov. Jo Jo Hristova_Don't Take the Bridge_onewaytheater.us_NYC
Photo: Pavel Antonov – Jo Jo Hristova – Don’t Take the Bridge,

Jo Jo Hristova in the role of Madlen, Sam’s aunt, a theater aficionado and confidante of the late Ellen Stewart, for whom time seems to have stopped around the time of Ellen’s apogee, does a great job of impersonating the idea of nostalgia as a way of life, or better yet – a way to escape reality and create an illusionary but perfectly ordered universe inhabited by the spirits of Ellen, Proust and the undying memories of love long past. Thus her cosy apartment in the heart of New York, wadded with the cushion of decency, honesty, fidelity and the glorious past, becomes twice as warm and hospitable.

JoJoHristova_Don't Take the Bridge_onewaytheater.us_Photo by Pavel Antonov
Photo: Pavel Antonov – Jo Jo Hristova – Don’t Take the Bridge,

Her nephew can definitely appreciate the peace of the private oasis Madlen has created for her family and Tony Naumovski is excellent in his impersonation of the dearly loving, gentle and attentive Sam. In the moments when the two of them are alone on the stage, one can feel their affection radiate from them and fill out the space around just like the sweet scent of the Madeleines she always bakes (Day or night, it is all the same to her, as Sam might say). His kind heart however has also the capacity of being engulfed by a very different kind of love – the uncontrollable passion for Delilah that makes his otherwise temperate character prone to suspicion and jealousy.

Photo by Pavel Antonov_Tony Naumovski_Don't take the Bridge_onewaytheater.us_NYC (1)
Photo: Pavel Antonov – Tony Naumovski – Don’t Take the Bridge,

Delilah, portrayed by the incredible Evgeniya Radilova, rushes into his life with the force of the unstoppable vigor of her nature. The determinateness of her entire being is presented stunningly by the unique charisma of Radilova who explores New York enthroned on the shoulders of the charming Naumovski and takes the audience on an inspiring journey out of the theater space and into the busy streets of the city:

I am discovering the city step by step. My feet are loving it! The Empire State Building, The Chrysler Building… I am always looking up and up, and up!

Photo: Pavel Antonov – Evgeniya Radilova – Don’t Take the Bridge,

In this stylistic configuration of the play the fourth character, the Parrot, an allegory of the past that often reappears and reenacts itself in our memories but never in reality, is no less important for the unfolding of the full potential of Pramatarova’s dramatic work. A much-experienced professional ballerina, Albena Kervanbashieva, manages to give the show a slightly different perspective than what we are used to seeing in conventional theater – she takes turns being Madlen’s “assistant” by handing her the props for the next reenactment of the past, an attentive listener while Madlen is reading another chapter from Proust’s novel, or the important interlocutor we hope to meet in that peculiar zone where reality and the afterlife meet.

After the show the audience, Bulgarian and American alike, waited to meet the artists. They discussed amongst themselves the incredible play of the actors, the expressive multimedia and sound, the retro-style of the costumes designed by Hristina Hristova, and the overall synchronization of these syncretic elements by the director and the team of

Photo by Pavel Antonov_Evgenia Radilova3_Don't Take the Bridge_onewaytheater.us_NYC
Photo: Pavel Antonov – Evgeniya Radilova – Don’t Take the Bridge,

The play was presented on a stage right opposite the famous theater of Ellen Stewart, La Mama. That was just one of many good examples of the fortunate serendipity accompanying the play on the way to its premiere performance on Off-Off Broadway.

The whole process involves attracting more and more new people to the team of volunteers: one to assist in dealing with the public, another to repair the antique chair that serves as a home to Madeleine. Nancy Lyon – a longtime assistant of Marcel Marceau – is the movement director, and Pavel Antonov – the photographer that diligently captures the spirit of the show with his camera. The formation of such teams is a sure sign that something real is happening – something that excites not just during the making of the performance, but also when it meets with the audience.

Photo by Pavel Antonov_Evgeniya Radilova and Tony Naumovski6_Don't take the Bridge_onewaytheater.us_NYC
Photo: Pavel Antonov – Evgeniya Radilova and Tony Naumovski – Don’t Take the Bridge,

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