Every traveler’s fear is being stranded. For whatever reason it may be, weather or broken transportation, being forced to stay in a terminal is never ideal. In David A. Gill’s fascinating play Providence, a group of travelers are forced to spend the night in a bus terminal in Providence, Rhode Island. As the night dwindles away, the strangers realize that when the present is halted, the past must be confronted.
When a bus bound to New York experiences mechanical issues, the occupants of that bus are stuck waiting in a terminal until the bus can return to its route. What starts out as muddy comedic vignettes quickly turns into an evening of pain, sadness, and the search for hope. Though it is set up as an ensemble piece, the secretive Trevor serves as the entrance point for the audience. Trevor, who has a dream or premonition of some sort, spots a woman he believes to have the answers he’s been searching for, thus hiding her bag so she can’t leave. Trevor, and the woman, Glory, for the most part are each other’s sole interactions with the occasional blip from the inebriated man. Through their interactions, we learn of Trevor and Glory’s past and the secrets they’re forced to confront upon arriving at their destination. On the other side of the story, best friends Robert and Stuart encounter the free-spirited Patema who places a wedge between the pair. All the while, the man on the phone searches his little black book for a lady companion. As the interactions occur, there are occasional flashbacks to Trevor, Glory, and Robert’s past that allow for insight to their current situations. With so many stories to track, many of which contain mutual themes, playwright David A. Gill offers an odd structure to his piece. The conceit of reality is that everything is happening at once in the same room, but rather than jumping from the two main dialogues, there is a lot of overlapping and “say and wait” dialogue, causing some of the actors to be forced out of the moment as they awkwardly wait for their cue. Additionally, Gill and director Tom Wallace have many of their characters exiting the stage without intent. As far as plot is concerned, Providence relies on vagueness. The intriguing aspect of the script is the character relationships, both familiar and stranger. How these characters interact with one another is captivating. How they react to the stories they hear is what makes this play real. For the most part, the duo and trio are the main interactions, but the most intriguing contact of the evening was between Robert and Trevor late in Act II. Their dialogue was filled with life and humor, a beautiful juxtaposition to the rest of the play. The first act is filled with so much exposition, it feels like a giant set up for something. But by the second act, the payoff was lacking due to a very unsatisfying and confusing ending. From the start, there was always something off about the world of Providence. Our main characters received a very clear and clean ending with their stories neatly tied but before we can sit in hope, the true identity of the inebriated man is bizarrely revealed. On the whole, there is some fluff that could be trimmed to allow for a intermission-less play to keep the momentum consistent.
Despite a difficult structure to tackle, director Tom Wallace created the world of Providence to the best of his abilities. By capitalizing on the sincerity of the relationships, Wallace directed his cast to do discover the humanity and heart within each individual. Production designer Charles Kirby had a limited space to create a giant terminal. While the space looked like a rundown waiting room, the spacial relationships suffered greatly. Wallace rightly asked his actors to live in the moment, getting loud when called for, but rarely did the other characters take note of the outbursts allowing for some unrealistic moments. With the set up as it was, eavesdropping needed to be a larger part of this world.
Providence has many of the elements for a well-made play but a clean and clear restructure may be in order for the bus to finally take off. Despite living in a specific time, Providence is a universal story that strikes the right chords.