We had to chuckle upon reading that the cast of Bruised Orange's Nebraska Project didn't start listening to Bruce Springsteen until they knew they were going to audition for the show inspired by the rocker's 1982 release 'Nebraska.' Oh, you kids! We've been a hardcore, die-hard, unapologetic Bossaholic since 1973, or more than a decade before most of Bruised Orange was born. ( And just to further, if tangentially, establish our bonafides in opining on matters Springsteen: After we reluctantly turned him down, due to prior commitments, we once set our sister up with E-Streeter Clarence Clemons, which led to a torrid few months of breathless phone calls from expensive hotels and VIP green rooms, as well as the dizzying hope that sis would bring the Big Man and maybe even the Boss to Wheaton for Thanksgiving dinner with the fam. )
Playwrights: Clint Sheffer, Mark Spence, Ann Sonneville, Tiffany Bedwell, Hank Hilbert, Tiffany Joy Ross and Max Stewart . At: The Side Project, 1439 W. Jarvis. Phone: 773-588-9092 . Runs through: July 19. Photo by Cassandra Stadnicki
All of which is to make clear: We know our Springsteen, from the darkness on the edge of town, down to the river and out to that billboard on the Jersey turnpike where the poets just stand back and let it all be. In the midst of the badlands, we believe in the promised land and it's a belief that has long sustained us through the meanness in this world.
Nebraska Project director John Morrison demonstrates he, too, has fallen hard for Springsteen's blue-collar poetry. But how much one appreciates—or even understands—this production hinges on how familiar one is with Springsteen's 'Nebraska,' a stark, acoustic meditation on American Dreams turned to nightmares, and despair that festers until it explodes. Without a keen knowledge of the tracks on that haunting, devastating 'Nebraska,' you're apt to be wholly perplexed as to what the heck is going on in 'The Nebraska Project.'
In 'Nebraska,' Springsteen broke from the anthemic, operatic thunder of 'Born to Run' and the elaborate orchestral storytelling of 'The River' to release a stripped down, acoustic meditation on a country where the disenfranchised lash out with irrevocable violence, a last resort of those with nothing left to lose.
'Nebraska' is world of rage and unemployment, of powerlessness and the false, cheaply glittery hopes of two-bit Atlantic City casinos. From this, Bruised Orange collaboratively penned a story of anti-heroes trying to force fate into giving them a break.
It's a valiant but frustratingly flawed effort. The Jerseyites in the story speak with backwoods Georgia accents. The plot is preposterously contrived and disjointed. A cast of five portrays eight characters, switching genders and generations with ease as they embody the characters of Springsteen's lyrics. For those in the know, it's a thrill to finally 'meet' the brother from 'State Trooper' or the man mourning his dead dog in 'Atlantic City.' For the rest, this Nebraska is inaccessible.