Just One Word

by Ann Marie Cusella

Burst is at the Alleyway Theatre until November 12, 2022

A Global Nightmare

In the 1967 film The Graduate, the protagonist, Benjamin Braddock, a recent Berkeley graduate bewildered by the people at his graduation party, is waylaid by a corporate executive, who earnestly tells him, “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word…plastics.” Ah, the wave of the future. Money to be made. Get in on the ground floor.

Fast forward to the present when plastics have become a global nightmare. A company that could turn that environmental disaster into a biodegradable product could transform the planet, not to mention make Amazon’s profits look like the piggy bank of an eight-year-old. Enter Sarah Boyd, the CEO of Tactix, a woman of vision who with her partner, scientist Jennifer Weaver, has done just that. Or, have they?

They started their company 20 or so years ago at college in Berkeley. Sara, who dropped out, heads administration, Jennifer the lab. Sara has instituted a lawsuit against a woman who was a mother figure to her in her youth, as well as their college mentor because she has publicly questioned claims of success made by Tactix. Jennifer is an ethical scientist who shies away from the public. She has become more and more concerned about what she is being asked to say in court, and about Sara’s increased secrecy. Their late-night sparring is interrupted by a young journalist sent to interview Sarah, who was expecting a man she has known for years.

Burst features a set that is a character in itself

A Play in Real Time

Burst, by Rachel Bublitz, takes place in real time. It is 90 minutes of brilliant, complex, yet very accessible dialogue and intense emotion portrayed by three actresses who keep the audience in awe of their skill. The play tackles some of the difficult questions of our times regarding the environment, corporate ethics (often considered a contradiction in terms), as well as apathy and passiveness on the part of the public. Beyond all of that, Sarah is a character study of a woman with an inability to tolerate any perceived threat to her vision of herself and her place in the world. Hmmm. Her impulsivity and mood instability lead to a lawsuit against her friend and mentor of many years, and conflict with her ethical partner, Jennifer.

Tracie Lane is stunning as Sara. She enters through an upstage door into her lavish office, walks to the edge of the stage and speaks directly to the audience in a passionate speech about the damaging effects of plastics on the environment. Her vivacity is compelling. The door opens again and Jennifer enters. Sara turns, furious at being interrupted, proceeds to berate her, and her own absent assistant. She calls security to have them look over videos to determine when the assistant left. Her mood swings continue throughout the play. One instant she is sweet to Jennifer, the next in a rage. She manipulates, cajoles, does everything she can to maintain her position and power, and avoid the truth of their situation. There is not a false note in her performance, or in those of the other two women.

Aleks Malejs is Jennifer. Her makeup gives her the gray, lined look of someone who is exhausted in body and spirit, and her demeanor confirms it. She is like a candle facing a hurricane as she attempts to get through to Sarah about the lab findings, and her fear of appearing in court. Her weariness is palpable. She is worn down and deflated. Her caring for her old friend and partner emerges when they sit and talk about the old days. For a few minutes, she sparkles, and we see her as she was. Another excellent performance.

Christine Turturro as the journalist, Alexis, arrives late in the play and sets in motion a “burst” of violent energy in Sarah that sends her off the rails. She at first seems very much the young woman in awe of her powerful subject, but then displays her mettle. She has done her homework and systematically reveals the lies Sarah has been telling about the company and the secrets she has been keeping, all done very professionally, while at the same time she appears fascinated by Sarah’s behavior. Yet another excellent performance.

The impressive set by Collin Ranney (who also does Costumes) is a character in itself. It looks very luxurious, while the windows on either side of the upstage door display piles and piles of unprocessed plastic bottles that seem to be encroaching on the office. They light up at times, in concert with the mood on the stage. Lighting and Technical Direction is by Emma Schimminger. Director Daniel F. Lendzian shows a sure hand in pacing, blocking, and keeping the explosive dialogue on a very real and believable level.

The Reality of Our System

Sarah has some deliciously sarcastic dialogue about what it means to be a “woman’s company,” and how journalists treat women CEOs, along with her own opinions about women in general. Which is to say, there is biting humor in the play, in addition to the seriousness of the drama. Sarah points out to Jennifer that while they do use factories in Malaysia, they use only the good ones.

In the age of “brands”, where marketing is king and ethics a chimera, Sarah Boyd is one of many. Burst is a riveting play that speaks to the reality of a system that encourages the worst excesses of people who live for control and power. And it is very, very entertaining.

Dates, Tickets and More Information

Burst is playing at the Alleyway Theatre from October 21st – November 12th, 2022. 

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