Amy Leigh Horan’s new play Burst is tough to watch — and at the same time, engrossing to watch — precisely because it feels so real.
Anyone who has dealt with grave uncertainty and a dire prognosis regarding a loved one’s health will find themselves in familiar, uncomfortable territory here. Three siblings have gathered in a hospital waiting room, agonizingly waiting to see if their mom will recover from a sudden brain aneurysm as the woman first faces down surgery, then a coma.There’s Erin (Alison Talvacchio), the self-appointed mother stand-in, Stephen (Robert Pike), a charming teenager who’s had brushes with major depression, and Ally (Mo O’Rourke), an actress and The One Who Left Home. The situation also brings into the orbit Steve (Thomas DiSalvo),Ally’s new uber-supportive, if overeager, boyfriend, and their close cousin Kira (Tori Boutin), a teenage blogger who longs to be taken seriously.
Director Bridget Grace Sheaff makes the waiting room feel oppressive, almost claustrophobic — characters pace around the room, switching chairs and positions frequently. Mess from countless takeout meals and well-meaning gifts creates messy clutter, and the lighting is sallow and unwelcoming.
closes May 27, 2018
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The tense circumstances bring out below-the-surface tensions in Burst: resentment over Ally’s departure, betrayal once family secrets are uncovered. Ally finds herself initially frozen when confronting her comatose mother (Steve’s awkward chatter, introducing himself for the first time, helps diffuse the tension). Kira’s post-millennial instinct to grieve publicly about their mother’s condition horrifies Stephen.The play also shows how a brief interruption from the tragedy at hand — in this case, a family wedding — can become a lifeline for those experiencing intense grief (and one that can cause them to go overboard when drugs and liquor are there to numb the pain).
Though hardly preachy, Burst serves as a public service announcement of sorts about brain aneurysms and the sudden devastation they can wreak on those who suffer from them (statistics in Parlor Room Theater’s program for the show further enforce this). It’s a scary condition, and Burst’s performances embody this dread. Particularly impressive here is Pike, who shows how sweet, sincere Stephen works through his inner suffering, sometimes lashing out and other times relying on humor and distraction to cope. As an outsider to the family circle, Pike’s hearty chuckles and almost-desperate offers of Dunkin’ Donuts runs (in Boston parlance, “Dunkie’s,” of course) are endearing and relatable.
Burst pushes the audience into teary territory when the siblings bond over saved, perfectly ordinary voicemails from the mother they’re so desperately missing. Those walking out of Burst are probably going to hold onto those “It’s Mom, give me a call when you get a minute” messages a little longer than usual, since as the play drives home, life really can change, permanently and without warning, in an instant.
Burst by Amy Leigh Horan . Director: Bridget Grace Sheaff. With Alison Talvacchio, Robert Pike, Mo O’Rourke, Thomas DiSalvo, Tori Boutin. Stage Manager: Emma Heck. Set: Ember DiSalvo. Costumes: Julie Cray Leong. Lighting: Dean Leong. Props: Thomas DiSalvo. Sound: Frank DiSalvo Jr. . Produced by Parlor Room Theater . Reviewed by Missy Frederick.