Brenda – 2013 NYC Fringe Festival Review

Brenda Fringe review 001It’s every young person’s nightmare… Turning into your parents!  Brenda a new play by Cory Finley takes this abstract fear and makes it into a literal problem for the protagonist.  Making things worse, Brenda is about a man who turns into his mother!

Despite the concept, Brenda is not a drag show. Instead it’s about coping with loss, and the struggle to find meaning in life.  Wallace (Played by Sam Bolen) is unhappy with his roommate Mike (Bill Coyne) and he’s futilely pursuing his attractive coworker Jen (Emily Kron) at his dead end job.  On top of that, his mother, Brenda just died.

Through a process never explained, Brenda’s soul has entered Wallace’s body, and Wallace is slowly turning into his mom, both physically and spiritually.  This leads to one of the best lines in the show “My penis is inverting!”

Indeed, a penis inverts.  Wallace’s transformation is depicted at first through Sam Bolen’s performance assisted with make up and costuming, but eventually the role of Brenda is taken over by Deidre Madigan who plays the role with Southern sass.  The early scenes of Brenda show the parent/child relationship from the child’s perspective, but once Brenda completely takes over Wallace’s body we see a mother working to straighten out her son’s life for him.  Yes, that is indeed a metaphor.

Playwright Cory Finley doesn’t bother trying to explain the metaphysics of the situation.  Souls of dead people can inhabit the bodies of the living, and the characters adapt to this situation quite quickly.   The audience might still be wondering just how and why, but the true focus of the piece is the notion of self-sacrifice, and how the right to live can be earned through such sacrifice.  The irony of this concept is pointed out both humorously and seriously over the course of the tale.

Because it’s part of an off-off-Broadway festival, the production has to have a minimalist look.  The set consists mostly of one huge block with a different image painted on each side.  Over the course of the show it is spun around and unfolded so that it becomes everything from a grave, to a car, to a bed.  Scenic Designer James Neal did a good job in making such a versatile piece, however it is such a massive monolith that it is clearly difficult for the cast to manipulate it during scene changes.

Brenda has a very clever concept to it, but it ultimately comes across as a slice of a larger project, and charges towards its conclusion far too quickly, heedlessly abandoning plot threads that could have been explored more fully (And satisfyingly).  It has two performances left in the NYC Fringe Festival as of this writing. More information is available at

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