Kieron’s Metatheatrical, Autobiographical Adventures
by Barbara Waldinger
In 2015, according to playwright Kieron Barry, he “at last achieved the long-coveted triple: broken heart, nervous breakdown and midlife crisis.” How would he get through the various stages of grief after the woman he lived with for three years left him? Barry decided to keep a diary, writing down each new thought, which led him to the idea of writing a play about the trauma he suffered, and/or a play about writing a play about his grief. In the course of this World-Premiere of The Official Adventures of Kieron and Jade, we learn that the play began as a four hour and forty minute oeuvre, which his unwilling director, having been threatened by Kieron with breach of contract if she did not direct it, was able to whittle down to a ninety-minute intermission-less comedy. It had to be a comedy, says Barry, because who would be interested in the misery he suffered unless the play provoked the laughter of recognition from an audience who had gone through similar breakups? “On paper, this is a play about self-harming, mental illness, even suicide. But as long as I can make a joke out of it, it will work.”
Born in Stratford-upon-Avon and currently residing in Ventura, California, Barry has written several published plays, including Tomorrow in the Battle (performed at Stageworks/Hudson), Numbers, featured in Lucy Kerber’s book 100 GREAT PLAYS FOR WOMEN, and Stockwell, for which Barry was nominated for a London Evening Standard Theatre Award.
The Official Adventures of Kieron & Jade features two accomplished performers: Jason Guy, a talented, energetic, fast-talking British actor who portrays Kieron, and Bonita Jackson, who creates more than fifteen different characters, according to director John Sowle. Jackson’s talent at transforming herself into multiple characters using various accents is a tour-de force, but it is not always easy to tell them apart. The most puzzling aspect of having only two performers, no matter how enjoyable it is to see good actors at the top of their game, is that we expect and look forward to seeing the other title character–the American singer/songwriter Jade—but it rarely happens. This leaves us to wonder whether we missed her among the other characters and if not, why the playwright has chosen to sideline her. We do see Jade in videos and photographs projected onto a lopsided screen upstage—are these projections the real people or the actors? Kudos to John Sowle for his visual imagery and for the amazingly inventive set—a long, triangular-shaped piece that spans the width of the stage, with a steep incline on the top (another skewed angle), along which the actors can sit, stand and lie down. Behind the incline are two small boxes that can be pulled up as seats for the actors, as well as a tennis net, and below the incline is a wall facing us with multiple doors that contain props used during the play.
Carmen Borgia, the sound designer, treats us to a terrific palette of musical interludes, sounds, and songs of various styles between and during the scenes. The play moves rapidly from scene to scene, interspersed with visual and aural stimuli, and even includes an actual recorded therapy session between Barry and his doctor. Sowle informs us that the quick pacing of the play is meant to evoke 1930s screwball comedy. The transitions from scene to scene are efficiently and beautifully choreographed. We are even shown a live action film noir/melodrama, a la Casablanca, in which a French woman pleads with her man to stay with her, rather than to enlist in WW II and kill Nazis. It’s funny, effective, and sexy, with the woman alternately attracted to the man who dreams of becoming a killer but repelled by him when he accedes to her desire to stay. This message is repeated throughout the play when the various female characters advise Kieron to be strong and fight back because passivity and a “woe is me” attitude are definitely not attractive to women.
The actors bring the audience into the performance by breaking the fourth wall and even involving us in some of the quirky action. We are always aware that these actors are stand-ins for the real people and we try to separate in our minds what is real from what is theatrical. We are told that Kieron is delusional and through his encounters with various professionals who try to help him, we learn about the flaws in his relationship with Jade that he did not, would not, or could not see. Did the playwright see them? What about his alter ego? If the character is the playwright then the play is like a hall of mirrors, each a reflection of the other. Despite the playwright’s attempts at humor, the laughs came only intermittently. Perhaps this subject does not lend itself as easily to comedy as Barry hoped.
The play opens with filmed footage of Timothy Treadwell, the main character in the film GRIZZLY MAN, showing the love and trust he had for the bears he chose to live with. Just as Treadwell was eaten by one of those bears, so was Barry metaphorically eaten by a woman who, unbeknownst to him, did not love him.
The Official Adventures of Kieron and Jade runs from April 20-30, 2017 on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm at the Bridge Street Theatre. For tickets go to www.BridgeStreetTheatre.org or call 518-943-3818.
Bridge Street Theatre presents the World-Premiere of The Official Adventures of Kieron & Jade by Kieron Barry; Directed and Designed by John Sowle. Cast: Jason Guy (Kieron) and Bonita Jackson (Jade and Everyone Else); Sound Design: Carmen Borgia; Production Stage Manager: Caedmon Holland. Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission; Bridge Street Theatre, 44 W. Bridge Street, Catskill, NY.; Thursdays through Sundays from 4/20/17; closing 4/30/17.