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The Bench: A Homeless Love Story - Theatre Review


By Stana Milanovich

The Bench
Robert Galinsky in "The Bench: A Homeless Love Story"
Photo by Aidan Grant

Claiming squatter's rights at one of the Hudson Theater's three theater spaces in the heart of Hollywood's Theater Row, is a very interesting one-man show. The Bench:  A Homeless Love Story attempts to tell the stories of four homeless men and the woman that a least one of them might love.

The bench, of course, sits central in the small space, bounded on three sides by line drawings of city life and secret parts of the story.  It's worn, and deceptively simple, hiding one character's cane behind its back.  But it is the figure who will occupy that bench, Robert Galinsky, author of the play, who takes up the space as he takes on all the characters.  Dressing onstage in the varied accountrements of homelessness, mismatched socks, the torn remnants of a hospital gown, Galinsky takes us back to a Valentine's Day in 1987 when the fear of AIDS was so rampant even shaking hands with someone who was infected was considered a revolutionary act.  If you were wondering how one man can inhabit 5 characters, the answer is, with grace and a great deal of compassion.  Galinsky takes us through the interactions and backgrounds of Graveyard, JD, Markie, and Joe, a lighting shift separating memories and background from the present drama.  For the most part, he does this incredibly well.  It's easy to differentiate between characters.  They have very particular voices and moments.  Graveyard, who lived with the author for one cold night decades back, has a very specific voice.  JD is gigantic in his anger.  Markie is sketchy innocence against Joe's bitter coffee-dregs cynicism. Loraine realistically is barely holding on and here Galinsky maybe errs on the side of grotesque as he squeezes his face to force his lips to purse.  But it is with Loraine and Joe that the heart of the story lies, and indeed, there is an empty heart-shaped box that Joe carries for her, despite the fact that "Loraine the Train" has entertained all the gentlemen of the bench and many others, and his initial bitter accusation that JD caught AIDS from her is his own fear and jealousy manifest.  There are powerful forces that can be at play here, and Galinsky twists himself mightily to manifest them.  

The Bench
Robert Galinsky in "The Bench: A Homeless Love Story"
Photo by Aidan Grant

It is interesting to experience a play that has been workshopped to the extent that The Bench has, to understand the sheer effort of refinement that has brought it to its present state.  Galinsky will talk about how the characters did indeed come from real people he met, how the play shifted from multiple actors to a solo show, the introduction of the character's background moments, the introduction of Loraine herself.  It allows a beautiful glimpse into the creative process.  Still, given this and the nature of the story, one might wonder why it remains set at that particular time and decade or if you can worry over a nut until it is worn so thin that the harder edges of drama are worn away.  Is the play sentimental, unsentimental, neither, and is that question important?  Why?  An empty heart-shaped box that once held sweetness still holds the sentiment, and in this play, several characters hearts.  

If you're so moved, you can pick up a copy of the graphic novel based on the play, with art by Daphne Arthur, whose work also graces the walls of the theater and is, indeed, also for sale.  Like your ticket, a portion of the proceeds from these sales will go towards aiding those experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles.  If you're very lucky, after an opportunity for open discussion with the actor/playwright, you might receive a sweet memento in the form of a small bench charm with a heart on it.   The discussion will be lively, and likely contain Galinsky's surprised discovery that for all New York's tough reputation and L.A.'s sunny climes, the City of Angeles can have a very cold heart, particularly for those living on the edge.  Still, theater remains vital, and speaks to those that need it most.  In the audience that night was a man who had just moved into permanent housing, and took the opportunity during the discussion to speak.  Mostly, he just wanted to say thank you to Galinsky for telling these stories.  At that, shouldn't all quibbles be put aside?  This is a play doing its job.  These are stories that need to be told.  And, tragically, after all this time, how much has really changed?  Over 50,000 people are homeless in LA county, something like 31,000 in LA proper.  There is even a new epidemic, typhus, disproportionately affecting the homeless here in L.A.  So, for all its years in development, everything comes back around and we remain on this bench.  It might be time to listen.  

The Bench: A Homeless Love Story is written and performed by Robert Galinsky and directed by Jay O. Sanders.   

The Bench runs Thursday and Fridays through December 13 at the Hudson Guild Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90038.  Tickets are available at www.plays411.com/thebench or by calling (323) 960-7822.  




Posted By Stana Milanovich on October 11, 2018 11:18 am | Permalink