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‘Bruise Easy’ a badly warped homecoming tale

As Robert Frost famously wrote: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

But to judge by Dan LeFranc’s dreadful new play, “Bruise Easy,” now receiving its world premiere by American Theater Company (ATC), this is not necessarily true. Home, LeFranc suggests, might be the place you cannot leave, even if you should. On the other hand, if you do leave and then try to return, you might not want to go inside. In addition, it’s a good bet no one will be there to welcome you anyway.


Not recommended

When: Through Feb. 14

Where: American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron

Tickets: $43 – $48


Run time: 90 minutes, with no intermission

LeFranc, it should be noted, also wrote “The Big Meal,” one of the most touching, beautifully realized, multi-generational plays about family ever to be mounted by ATC. So you have to ask: What happened with “Bruise Easy”?

Do not blame the fine actors (Kelly O’Sullivan and Matt Farabee), who work themselves into a sweat to bring the play to life, or the director, Joanie Schultz, or the droll, Greek chorus-style ensemble of six neighborhood kids comprised of members of ATC’s Youth Ensemble. And that always inventive designer, Chelsea M. Warren, has crafted a set — the garage of a suburban California house — that could not be more ideal.

No, this mess is entirely LeFranc’s fault. And coming on the heels of ATC’s production of another dreadful play — Thomas Bradshaw’s “Fulfillment” — you really have to wonder whether this so-called “Legacy Season” for ATC’s late artistic director, PJ Paparelli (who died in a car accident last year) might not have been more aptly titled, “The Season of Extreme Dysfunction,” with the appended subtitle of “Who Cares?”

Sandy Nguyen (left) and ATC Youth Ensemble member Jenna Makkawy in Dan LeFranc’s “Bruise Easy” at American Theater Company. (Photo: Michael Brosilow)
Sandy Nguyen (left) and ATC Youth Ensemble member Jenna Makkawy in Dan LeFranc’s “Bruise Easy” at American Theater Company. (Photo: Michael Brosilow)

The story unfolds like this: Tess (O’Sullivan), who looks like she’s got things together, walks up the cement driveway of the home where her long-divorced mother and her pot-smoking, camera-toting, grocery clerk brother, Alec (Farabee), still live. Her mother is not there, and refuses to answer her cell phone. And the barely communicative Alec is hardly rolling out the welcome mat for his sister as he sits on the ground in typical stoned and snarky fashion. Think of these two as Millennial versions of Sam Shepherd siblings, but without the verbal flair.

Mom, who might be mentally ill, takes the Godot stance (she never shows up), and the siblings begin to engage in ever more “what the hell” behavior, drinking cheap alcohol and eating junk food. As Tess admits that her relationship with her boyfriend is over (and more), the conversation turns to sex and hickeys and more. And things begin to spiral dramatically downhill from there. I will spare you the many sordid details except to say that there is plenty of transgressive behavior unleashed here.

Meanwhile, six California teens with attitude make periodic visits to the stage to fill in the gaps, and to remind us that such a chorus is usually a presence in the sort of play that doesn’t end well. Early on they announce that the story we are about to hear “pretty much sucks.” Right they are.