In The Bridge Club, veteran Hollywood television comedy writer Richard Raskind has brought a story about two would-be suicide victims to the stage with thoroughness, humor and warmth.
The world-premiere play, on stage at the Society Hill Playhouse, runs through this weekend, with remaining performances tonight at 7 PM, Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 8 PM),
The play’s premise is that two strangers, each in their would-be final moment, manage to encounter each other on the Golden Gate Bridge – the world’s most popular destination for suicide, with over 1,300 since its 1937 opening.
In the production, those two strangers, the principal character Jack (played by Michael Kelberg, a now-South Jersey-based Philadelphia native who runs the Congregation B’nai Jeshurun theatre program on Manhattan’s Upper West Side), who faces a relapse of cancer, and Sue (Laura Cheneski, a veteran of several Bucks County Playhouse productions), a petty criminal who seems generally to be unlucky at life, effectively illustrate two of the “types” at greatest risk for suicide.
Through the course of the interactions of Jack and Sue with three other characters, including Harold Smyth, a guard on the bridge played by visible local Ben Franklin impersonator Bill Robling (featured by this writer in a separate article for the Philadelphia Daily Record about The Bridge Club [see page 11 of the link]), the audience becomes aware of at least two additional suicide “types.”
During this process, the play contains quite a bit of suspense, especially at its conclusion. Philadelphia Jewish Culture Examiner takes Raskind at his word when he says, in an interview that he has yet “to find anyone who said that they knew where it was going.”
Kelberg is effective in portraying the vulnerability and hopelessness that one encounters when facing a possibly-fatal disease relatively early in life. Cheneski aptly manages the difficult task of conveying charm while lamenting a life which seems devoid of any sort of love. Robling provides a voice of reason suggestive of the angel Clarence in It’s A Wonderful Life.
The Bridge Club’s treatment of suicide in a sensitive yet accessibly funny way seems consistent with the television-writing career of Raskind (who is no relation to the professional tennis player Richard Raskind, who was transformed via sex reassignment into Renée Richards). Raskind, who has written for over thirty television shows ranging from Scarecrow and Mrs. King to Hunter to Fantasy Island to Webster, has received acclaim through the decades for sensitive-topics episodes he has written such as the “This Year’s Model” episode of Family Ties (Mallory regrets entering a mother-daughter modeling contest when she is overshadowed by her mother Elyse) and the “A Real Guy’s Guy” episode of Coach (Coach Hayden’s player Terry comes out of the closet as a homosexual). Philadelphia Jewish Culture Examiner left the theater speculating that the apparent gray-balling in Hollywood of a clearly-very-talented-but- unforgivably-well-over-40 writer such as Raskind explains a considerable part of the ongoing decline in the popularity of the television situation comedy.
Raskind deserves credit for the way he has handled suicide, something of a “taboo subject,” in his opinion, for plays. (That subject may be considerably less taboo in certain recent opera and Shakespeare productions.)
The play emphatically conveys, in the words of principal actor Kelberg, the importance of “having other people in your life so that you’re not alone and can get through things together.” As Kelberg continues, “Any sort of relationship can appreciate that.”
All in all, The Bridge Club is moving yet entertaining while exploring, in Raskind’s words, “the effect of suicide on the survivors” and that “every day really is a gift.”