Fierce Backbone’s production of Gentle Passage portrays the transformation of two juxtaposed characters that become unlikely best friends through a clinical drug trial. Anna is a bitchy, academic researcher working for a pharmaceutical company set to the task of documenting drug efficacy by collecting subject life stories. Joe is a gentle, but straightforward gay man with a horribly tragic past suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Unwittingly overcome by empathy for Joe, Anna morphs into a decent human being that is greatly affected by the premature devastation of Joe’s mind. Gentle Passage relentlessly throws horror-schemes at the audience to the point that they almost become ridiculous. Just think of something bad, and you name it, it is probably mentioned in this play. Schizophrenia? You got it. Pedophilia? You get that lots of that. How about some incest, cancer, shock treatments, dementia, divorce, widowhood, brutal child abuse, bloody kitchens, institutionalization, mental illness, marriage inequality, cages, fear, beatings, death, murder, loneliness, severely burnt flesh, big-pharma cruelty, and even Catholic school. Yes, you get all of that with this play too. Thankfully, the work is touching and poignant enough that it folds the audience into the crux of the play’s humanity.
Rachel Boller, as Anna, is at once cutting and believable as she navigates the metamorphosis of her character. She does an excellent job of letting emotion subtly break through a character that is stifled by her own fear of feeling. Gary Rubenstein is charming and sympathy-drawing as Joe, a dominant monologue-driven role. Under the simple but effective direction of Paul Messinger, the work moves quickly and neatly to efficiently tell an entire dramatic life story. Gentle Passage is playing at Artworks Theatre as part of Hollywood Fringe through June 24. Tickets are $10 and available online.
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