Ben & Lucille
“That’s just like us!” The man in the front row says to his wife in a not-so-quite whisper.
He’s captured the gist of the fun, quirky and insightful piece that is Ben & Lucille. This stand-out play is a relatable new approach to a familiar story. The title duo are people that we know. They feel real. That’s what makes it great.
Ben and Lucille meet in a motel room in Philadelphia. She is a graduate student living in New York, he is a struggling painter based in D.C. As the night wears on, the repressed frustrations brought on by their long-distance relationship bubble to the surface. Old fights and new wounds open up as they test their commitment to one another.
Elan Zafir’s script is funny, honest and challenging. In a matter of seconds Ben and Lucille flip from blissful celebration of their reunion to facing off in uncomfortable and aggressive arguments that they’ve had before.
And again. And again. It’s a dance that is all too familiar to anyone who’s ever been in a serious relationship, long-distance or otherwise.
The action and dialogue clip along quickly but it’s the slower moments of reconciliation or decay that clue us in to the true nature of Ben and Lucille’s relationship. The humor grabs your attention but witnessing the characters struggling through the tougher bits is what sustains your interest.
by Elan Zafir
at Lab II – Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H Street NE
Washington, DC 20002
Details and tickets
Zafir proves himself to be a talented actor and strong playwright. His performance as Ben is incredibly charming. He easily navigates his sharp, witty dialogue, bringing just the right amount of humor and compassion. Danielle Peterson, as Ben’s restless girlfriend Lucille, is equally as captivating. Her high energy and quirky physicality give her character an endearing awkwardness.Together these two are just so much darn fun to watch! You can tell that they trust each other and are really enjoying their life onstage. Their passion is infectious and it’s impossible not to care about how everything will turn out.
Orion Jones’ direction gives the actors plenty of room to play and the simple set comprised of a bed, table, chairs and bed stands is fully utilized. In a clever moment of confrontation Lucille stands on the bed above Ben, literally claiming the higher ground in their argument. The blocking expands and contracts the space, building tension and underscoring the characters’ changing motivations.
For a “work in progress” (so called by Zafir) Ben & Lucille is a commendably successful project. If this is just an early glimpse of what is to come, consider yourself lucky to be the first to enjoy it.
Classified as a contemporary comedy, this production of Ben & Lucille is hands down the absolute best 45 minutes you will spend at The Capital Fringe Festival in 2014. Playwright Elan Zafir has conjured up theatrical genius that is both modern and relevant and loaded with humorous moments amid a very real dramatic situation. His writing style is captivating; Zafir showcases his true knowledge of how to build layers of plateau steps into the script where escalations gently resolve themselves and just as things approach neutral another moment of conflict erupts between the characters. Nary a dull moment within these 45 minutes, the show moves quickly, its emotional intensity driving it to a stunning conclusion.
Relationships, in essence, are something that everyone can relate to. No relationship is perfect, everyone quarrels. And it is often the biggest issues that are the least discussed, masquerading as superfluous details. Zafir captures the epitome of these relationship trials and tribulations letting volumes of subtext erupt through what start out as petty arguments until they come to an explosive climax. His writing has a cadence to it that drives the action and the major dramatic question of “will Ben and Lucille survive?” making for a flawless pacing of the performance.
Zafir balances humor into the production; juxtaposing it against heavy moments of serious emotional conflict that often erupt from nowhere— as they often do in real life fights and heated disagreements between couples. His use of language is fluid, saying exactly what needs to be said to articulate both Ben’s point (also acted by Zafir) and Lucille’s (Danielle Peterson) without having too few or too many words. Director Orion D. Jones steps in to really turn up the heat in moments of extreme disagreement, having the characters shouting their lines over one another simultaneously; replicating fights in real life.
The story itself is fresh; not just your average fight between a couple. It’s unique in its essence while being just unattached enough to anything extremely specific so that everyone can relate to it. The characters are realistic, authentic, and genuine. The problems are real, believable, and true; and we’ve all experienced them, even if not at this caliber, at one time or another in our relationships with friends, with lovers, with significant others. Zafir’s writing is the best being showcased at Fringe this season.
Of over 100 shows at the festival this year, it would be inexcusable to miss this brilliance in all its radiant resplendence. Real life, truly captured by a burgeoning and clever playwright who understands dramatic tension, plot construction, character creation and overall how to compose a piece of theatre. It’s an exceptional work not to be missed.
Ben & Lucille (Atlas: Lab II, 8 p.m.) — Even cynical-beyond-her-years rookie agent Eva Harder fell, er, hard for this two-hander about a long distance relationship, written by and featuring Elan Zafir. (He recently appeared in another, edgier two-hander about a troubled relationship, Signature Theatre’sproduction of Tender Napalm.) Agent Harder praised the play’s plot, dialogue, and especially Zafir’s performance, saying he made her forget he’s playing a role. Acting!
Hip Shot: Ben & Lucille
Atlas Performing Arts Center
Wednesday, July 16 at 6:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 20 at 7:00 p.m.
Wednesday, July 23 at 9:15 p.m.
Friday, July 25 at 8:00 p.m.
They say: long-dis·tance re·la·tion·ship (noun)| a romantic relationship between two people who yearn endlessly for each other while apart, then argue over small things when together. see also: in love
Eva’s Take: Ben and Lucille were waiting for their relationship to end, but I wasn’t.
In a two-character show that is basically an hour-long conversation, I’ll admit that I was afraid of getting bored. But it’s hard to say which was stronger—playwright and co-star Elan Zafir’s writing or his performance.
The minute Zafir stepped on stage, he became addictive to watch, easing into his role in a way that made you forget he was playing one. The dialogue was witty, sure, but it was also real and even a little awkward, sounding spontaneous to feel like life.
While a couple of moments did feel stiff or implausible, overall, Zafir and his other half, Danielle Peterson, delivered the kind of authentic performance that caused one audience member to audibly—read: loudly—whisper to her boyfriend/spouse/partner, “They sound just like us!”
After the show, a friend and I grabbed a few margaritas and debated who we thought was more at fault.
“She’s a bitch,” my friend said.
“Well, she was right,” I said.
And that’s what Ben & Lucille leaves you with: the uncomfortable knowledge that it’s hard to place blame in a relationship. And just when you think there’s no way two people can survive what just happened, there they go—unbelievably, resolutely, hopefully—again.
See it if: You crave strong acting, believable dialogue, and a captivating narrative.
Skip it if: Skip it? Why would you do that?