Victor Kaufold’s 70-minute play Bridesburg, now at the Gene Frankel Theater deals with love-hate relationships among a dysfunctional family — a familiar subject for audiences — but does so as well as any regular theatergoer might desire.
The troubled unit that is cooped up at a house located in the working-class Philadelphia neighborhood that gives the show its title are newly-marrieds Matt (Jeff Barry) and Kay (Mizuo Peck), who are squatting unhappily in the fixed-up basement his mother Janet (Susan Ferrara) provides rent-free, along with Matt’s sister Cat (Brianne Moncrief), an apparently unusually bright teenager who thinks she’s a freer spirit than she actually is. Indeed, she has to be chided occasionally by her African-American best (and only) friend Mitchell (Julian Joseph) for her recklessness.
Kay, who has dropped out of school and is pregnant with the couple’s first child, blames the pressure-cooker living conditions, for the family’s internecine warfare. She’s partially on the right track, since sharing the same space leads Matt to insist that Janet is stealing money he’s hidden as remuneration for her beneficent offer — an accusation that goes unproven during the action. But the problem is deeper than just geography.
Indeed, the squabbling goes to the heart of what family members wish for each other — and what happens when they become frustrated when their hopes aren’t realized. Janet, who works with the elderly, has been the sole support of her children, and simply can’t fathom why Matt and Kay bridle under her expectations. Matt, who is tolerant of the menial job he eventually loses unfairly, worries he isn’t good enough for Kay. And Cat, who is unable to apply her intelligence meaningfully in a no-future community, acts out her rage to the point where Janet banishes her from the house.
The myriad nuances Kaufold builds into eight substantial but never attenuated scenes supply the actors with roles that call for them to travel the well-known gamut of emotions adventurously. Director Jack Young fully guarantees his cast meets every challenge.
Ferrara’s Janet doesn’t make a false move from first entrance to last as a well-meaning woman who wants to keep her cool while her last nerve is under siege. Moncrief nails a character who intuitively knows every button she can push to tee people off and simultaneously dislikes herself for pushing them. Barry does strong work as Matt, who believes he’s up against his limitations even more than anyone else does; Peck is deft at playing the conciliating Kay; while Joseph’s insightful Mitchell is movingly naturalistic.