From the moment that the audience was welcomed to The South Oxford Space by the director Kara-Lynn Vaeni, I knew that this play was not going to go well. My initial impression of The Brink of Us, in stream of consciousness, went something like this:
Vaeni: “Welcome to the show everyone!”
Theresa thought: This director has a lot of energy.
Vaeni: “I was not sure if I should say this or not.”
Vaeni: “I did not say this last night . . .”
Theresa: Why not? What happened last night that made you feel obligated to say this tonight?
Vaeni: “and the cast did not want me to say this”
Theresa: ABORT! ABORT!
Vaeni: “but this is a comedy!”
Theresa: face palm
I am quite sure that Vaeni’s revelation was meant as an innocent gesture of preparation for the audience, but I heard “our audience last night did not laugh when they should have and clearly did not realize that what they were seeing is funny.” Life query – if you tell a joke and no one laughs, is it really a joke? With all due respect to the playwright Delaney Britt Brewer and the director, The Brink of Us is not particularly funny. Or coherent.
Describing The Brink of Us is a daunting task because, while it has been several days since I saw the show, I am still not entirely sure what happened. Part murder mystery party and part Donner Party, The Brink of Us is the tale of a group of annoying, successful twenty-somethings who annually meet up in a secluded cabin in the woods to re-create their college days. Except, this group harbors a terrible secret regarding the death of their friend Annie who apparently died at this very same friend get-together the year before. She also happens to be the sister of another friend, Elliot, who regularly attends these shindigs but was not present when his sister died at the cabin.
Joining dark, brooding and British Elliot at the cabin this year are “just bouncing back from a nervous breakdown” Liz, her “nice guy” significant other Sean, self-involved and excruciatingly annoying author Alex, and Alex’s pot-smoking, chill boyfriend Max. Rounding out the group is roid-rage, Wall Street lawyer Sebastian and his non-descript girlfriend Ellen. Plus Sally, who is Elliot’s girlfriend and both annoyingly bad at playing parlor games and incredibly strange. With the exception of Sean, you could not pay me to sit in a room with any of these people for more than five minutes. Their banter is uncomfortable, and their interactions banal – it is difficult to see why they still get together at all. The first one third of the show consists of friendly catching up, but the plot then devolves into a murder investigation by Elliot who suspects that one of the group had a hand in his sister’s death. Elliot is a super sleuth (and a bit of a psychopath, but more on that later) and, with the help of his dead sister’s ghost, he discovers the culprit after asking only a few questions of his friends. It is difficult to believe that the police did not extricate the truth from these pathetic felons shortly after Annie’s death – was there even an investigation?
Then Elliott goes outside to kill a deer. As Elliot reveals to his friends, the deer have gone mad and are attacking humans this year for no apparent reason. That is not a summary of the plot, by the way. That is my commentary. Perhaps there is a metaphor that I failed to grasp or the deer populace’s behavior is somehow connected with Annie’s death (a link that the technical design alludes to), but I have no idea what the playwright was going for. It’s a comedy, so maybe the whole deer concept was meant to be funny. I didn’t laugh. Nor did I laugh all that much during the ending of the play when a raging snowstorm traps the group of young adults inside, leaving them to starve to death. That is, until Elliot brings in bloodied and uncooked deer meat, which the friends devour “last supper” style in a stomach-churning manner. At least, I hope it is deer meat. (SPOILER ALERT) At some point, Elliot apparently killed Max (who, as it turns out, killed Annie), and it is not entirely clear if the meat is deer or, perhaps, Max carpaccio. Simply put, the scene is grotesque.
Then the friends all wander outside to freeze to death in the snow. HA HA HA. No. Wait. That’s not funny. That’s horrifying.
Despite the jumbled and less-than-humorous plot, there are a few acting highlights in this mess of a show. Tom Kelsey’s Elliot is suitably melancholy for much of the play, brooding over his sister’s death, and Elliot fades into a terrifying psychosis before leading his friends to their deaths. Annelise Nielsen also performs admirably as the neurotic Liz who is one party game away from attempted suicide. Nielsen believably handles Liz’s drastic mood swings and, of all the actors, she has the best comedic timing and capably delivers a few of the more chuckle-worthy moments in the play.
As a whole, comical moments are few and far between in The Brink of Us, and this dark play too often crosses the line into nonsensical. The script is packed with aimless subplots that come and go with little explanation and unlikable characters who are both superficial and undefined. But, if you decide to check out the show, remember to laugh. It is a comedy after all.