“A Semi-Autobiographical Response…” at Union College
The spirit of Bruce Springsteen returns to Union College  

Nearly 45 years ago, Bruce Springsteen played Union College in Schenectady, NY, and his spirit came back to town last night in a new form. Union College Department of Theatre and Dance presented  When The Promise Was Broken, short plays inspired by the songs of Bruce Springsteen, running through the weekend. The original collection features 13 short plays written by various playwrights, each taking an individual Springsteen song as inspiration.

For last night's official premiere, nine of these plays were performed, included Valhalla Correctional, inspired by "We Take Care of Our Own"; Bloody River, inspired by "American Skin (41 Shots)"; Object Permanence, inspired by "Terry's Song"; Drive All Night, inspired by "Drive All Night"; A Semi-Autobiographical Response…, inspired by "I'm on Fire"; Gospel Hour, inspired by "State Trooper"; Merry-Go-Round, inspired by "Cover Me"; Pick Up Beds, inspired by "When You're Alone," and Glad For the Company, inspired by "Nebraska."

Yulman Theatre is an intimate venue, seating fewer than than 100 patrons.  Pre-show music featured music by Springsteen and included "Your Own Worst Enemy," "Sugarland," and "This Hard Land." As the performances began, each play either began or ended with the song it was inspired by. The acting was excellent, and the rapid-fire pace of each act kept the evening moving along.  

The theme of each play did vary, with some representing a song fairly literally, and others that required a bit more thought to discover the connection. None of these short performances recreated the lyrics word-for-word in live action — the key phrase is "inspired by." The Magic Rat driving his sleek machine was not to be seen. 

In fact, some of the characters may not exist at all: while a protagonist in Drive All Night seemed real enough at first, two women in the play wind up debating whether he was just an image they had created, one they wanted to be true. In "Object Permanence" ("Terry's Song"), the character is talking to the ghost of her brother, whom she has to eulogize, but she's having difficulty because his death was not supposed to happen. And yes, he broke the mold.

What made the evening particularly impressive is that the actors are all of college age, 18-22 years old, born around the time the reunion tour was underway. To see these undergraduates not only embrace Bruce's music but create and embody new characters that take his lyrics one step further is a real joy. And hearing the words and themes put forward in a different light brings a new appreciation to these songs.

If you are within driving distance of the Capitol Region, this performance is well worth checking out and will continue through Sunday, February 10 — see union.edufor details. 
- February 8, 2019 - reporting and photographs by Howard Kibrick