Director Garret Storms tackles a celestial love affair in quirky ‘Bright Half Life’
Ever wonder how someone gets selected to direct a play at a theater? If you’re Garret Storms, it goes something like this: The artistic director calls and says, “Hey, we’re interested in you directing a script for us — why don’t you familiarize yourself with the script, look at your schedule and tell us if it’s something you’d be interested in.”
And in the case of Bright Half Life — the latest production in WaterTower Theatre’s new Discovery Series — his answer was a definite “yes.”
In some ways, Storms was an unlikely choice for the play: Written by an African-American female, with a cast of two women in a lesbian relationship, it was first produced by the Women’s Project Theater, and spans 45 years in the life of the characters.
“Yeah, it is very interesting,” Storms admits. “We have a completely male production team, other than the cast, and when I realized that I went ‘Oh! This is a thing.’”
But in other ways, Storms was a natural choice.
At just 27, he’s one of the busiest, and most talented, actor/directors in North Texas right now. His first professional play as a director was Stage West’s production of Orlando, Virginia Woolf’s gender-bending time-hopping story; and his most recent work as an actor was WTT’s The Big Meal, which also took place over the full scope of a relationship from courtship to death. But when I mention that Storms apparently specializes in working on nonlinear plays, it first seems to catch him unawares. And then he admits it’s true.
“I think that’s just kind of how it’s gone for me,” he says. “It’s interesting to me the ways in which life doesn’t seem linear. In our experience it is, but in the way we remember it and communicate it and research our past… there doesn’t seem to be as much direction.”
Bright Half Life concerns Vicky (Kenneisha Thompson) and Erika (Kelsey Leigh Ervi; see sidebar) from meet-cute to U-Haul rental, marriage to divorce, parenting to middle age, all in 75 breathless minutes that hop from timeline to timeline like binge-watching Quantum Leap. Storms was immediately drawn by the uniqueness of the storytelling, as well as the focus on women’s lives.
“It’s a cleverly written story — there is metaphor without being heavy handed about it; it’s specific in that it’s about these characters, but it’s also just about life. And it is a love story between two women, which we don’t see very, often especially on Dallas stages, but while gender is very much a part of the story, there’s [a universality to it]. It’s a love story about the birth, death and rebirth of what it takes to move on [in a relationship]. I think it is a terribly human play, and there are slices that all of us will say, ‘I remember my first kiss’ or ‘I recall when I saw the one that got away’ or ‘yeah, the night I heard my parents say that.’”
The script (by Tanya Barfield) is sparse, and suggests keeping the production as minimal as possible, but Storms was intrigued by the imagery of the cosmic throughout, which he has decided t0 emphasize.
“There’s this through line of a celestial metaphor — the birth of stars, constellations, galaxies. I’m embracing that quality and running with that,” he hints. “But you don’t want to force the audience into a box — you want them to use their imagination so they walk away with something unique to them.
We get to see more of Ervi, at least for a while
Garret Storms isn’t the only insanely busy theater professional working on Bright Half Life: One of his cast members, Kelsey Leigh Ervi, is also in the thick of things.
We wrote about Kelsey in January, when she was directing Lord of the Flies at WTT; and again when she was supervising the 24 HR Play Festival, part of the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival. She also acts, writes and co-hosts a theater podcast. But we thought we might not be seeing as much of her anymore when she announced on Facebook she would be departing this summer to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in graduate school.
Well, academia will have to wait. This week, Ervi was named the new associate artistic director at WaterTower. This comes on the heels of the recent departure of Terry Martin as artistic director and the appointment of Greg Patterson as the company’s new managing director. Ervi says her goal is still to eventually attend grad school, but until then, college’s loss is our gain.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 20, 2016.