Spotlight: The Bright Sessions’ “Rose” Breaks your Heart in Song

Minimal spoilers to follow, in what is something of a review and more of an impressionistic love letter.

‘Rose’ was a masterpiece of audio drama that gave me the uplifting and astonished sensation that this is the pinnacle that they’ve been building to. We’ve been on a journey to this episode with them, and witnessed the flow and growth in their writing, acting, composition, and sound design for this. We follow Alanna Fox through her best and most emotionally and stylistically varied performance yet, as Rose jumps between the dreams of her new atypical friends with Ian McQuown’s dream-version of Agent Green. And in this, McQuown astonishes with his chameleon-like ability to bring a recognizable and yet changed Green to our ears, just as Julia Morizawa does with Dr. Bright in Mark’s dream. Agent Green is still a stuffy suit, while saying what he means in an unwavering tone, and Dr. Bright is still a therapist, still matter-of-fact and gentle at once, but about all the wrong things in a jarring juxtaposition. They are familiar, but coming across warped without a significant tonal change, like the way people you know appear in dreams.

And the performance gold stars don’t stop there. Briggon Snow and Alex Gallner bring Caleb and Adam into glorious audio technicolor, a relationship we are thoroughly invested in, but that foreshadows strife and illuminates fears that all of us have experienced for the future. It is an emotional turmoil involving a level of honesty they wish they could have outside of dreams, and it hurts. Not about to left out of making listeners cry, Andrew Nowak’s performance left me a wreck of a human being and I’m considering billing him for it. Clean up in Aisle Ely. Mark in this is brittle and left an impression deep in my heart.

To do all of this in song is a jaw-dropping experience.

This surprise musical would not have been possible without the production team, and here I’m going to highlight the way Mischa Stanton, Evan Cunningham, and Lauren Shippen have become gears shifting effortlessly together. Stanton’s production and editing left me grasping for words that encompassed what I felt. Nothing here is overproduced, everything flows together seamlessly, and is so rich that it’s hard to believe that Stanton didn’t just step into someone’s dreams and record what that sound is. If I start talking about Evan Cunningham’s composition work, I will be here until next year. He is a versatile and clever composer, who put a lot of thought into what styles flowed with what characters and then interwove those musical themes such that they resonated throughout the episode.

And what can I say about Lauren Shippen that hasn’t been said already? She is a powerhouse, both as a writer and an actor. Sam’s song moved me to tears and dug itself into my brain and refuses to let go even several days later (I still haven’t been able to stop tearing up every time I relisten). Shippen will make you cackle and she’ll make you so angry you see red and, lord, will she make you cry, like a child, probably into your ice cream. And you’ll ask her to do it again because it was all so damn beautiful, you want to witness it with every sense you possess, just once more.

This is not a “filler” episode. This is not some light-hearted fun before the big finale. This is a serious examination of our characters and their innermost dreams and fears and beliefs. When you finish, you come away (sobbing, a lot) with a fuller understanding of everyone, and most deeply of Rose.

I want to have the experience of hearing this episode for the first time again.

The entire team has scored on every chart, blown past every barrier and hurdle, and good grief, left us all in emotional upheaval.  If you aren’t listening to The Bright Sessions, let me be the probably-umpteenth or maybe-first person to tell you: You need to be. It will change your life.

Stay strange.

This review was originally published in Audio Dramatic Issue #2, March 26 2018.