On a Beachside Campus, the Gritty “Bernhard” is Born

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Michael Lin
Staff Writer

Naturally, in beautiful sunny Santa Barbara, an apocalyptic play exploring atrocities and kindness made possible by human selfishness is born. “Bernhard,” one of UCSB’s fall theatre productions, opened on Nov. 4 as part of UCSB’s Launch Pad Program, which brings playwrights onto campus to write, edit, and produce a brand new play during their time at UCSB.

“Bernhard” is written by Lynn Rosen, a current resident playwright at New Dramatist in NYC. The director of the play is one of UCSB’s own — an associate professor in the Department of Theater and Dance, Annie Torsiglieri.

“Bernhard” immerses the audience in an ongoing war territory. The audience follows the eponymous Bernhard, a maturing adult on his journey to escape the cruelties of war and the terrible things humanity is capable of. While Bernhard tries his best, as he exclaims he only “lies, cheats, and survives,” the audience is brought to root for Bernhard as someone who tries to live, instead of “not die.”

The set looks minimal but creatively done. Multiple slabs of wood scattered against each other establish not only a stage, but also the war-torn infrastructures that are ever present in every part of the play. They function as housing in one scene and jailing in another. The play’s designers definitely made sure to direct the audience’s imagination as part of the hopeless, gritty set.

In the play, the characters adorned themselves with stained rags, dirty linens, and teared coats; no doubt masterfully selected by UCSB-bred costume designers. The various technologies used in the plot seem to convey an early modern period theme to the piece, yet the play is interestingly set in “everywhere” during “anytime,” according to the playwright’s notes. Torsiglieri writes in her notes: “‘Bernhard’ will encourage audiences to feel, to think, to empathize, and to realize we are all in the same boat, no matter who we are … and that we sink or swim together.”

One of the most satisfying experiences that one could get from watching a theatre piece is found in its immediacy: the action is spontaneous and the audience is caught right in the middle of it. There is no need for putting on 3D-glasses to enjoy the closeness of the characters and setting. The stage lighting is so expertly crafted that it will leave you gasping for air, or shivering in cold chills in different scenes.

Actors on stage are also in charge of providing sound effects: various hooting, howling beasts are right in vicinity (more than half of the sounds made by the actors I didn’t know were humanly possible). The “background soundtrack” is played right in front of the audience, as actors pick up instruments or just hum, and suddenly add another layer to this mille crêpe of theatre spectacle.

The visual, emotional, and psychological feast that is “Bernhard” will continue its run in the UCSB Performing Arts Theater from Nov. 4 6, then from Nov. 8 13. On weekdays the show is at 8 p.m., and on weekends there is an additional matinee show at 2 p.m.

In the run time of two hours, I can guarantee not one second will be wasted, as the play was very fast paced and always kept the audience on the edge of their seat. Sometimes, the speech was even too fast for me to comprehend. Nevertheless, if one is weary of mundane living, and wonders what could ever be obtained through simply being alive, then I urge you to rummage through a two-hour adventure, in search of the “purpose over the mountain” with Bernhard.

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