by Jessica Hoffman

Bridge Street Theater takes audiences to 1990s San Francisco with its production of
Sympathetic Magic: a play about very smart people making very questionable decisions. Two
astrophysicists, a university chair, a sculptor, a choirmaster, an elderly anthropologist, her
assistant, and a gay priest make up the cast of enigmatic characters in this play. (And, yes, at
one point they do walk into a bar.)

The set for this production–designed by John Sowle–is strikingly sparse, and so before the play
begins one gets the sense that one’s focus should be on the characters and not the backdrop.
But when the play begins with a monologue from astrophysicist Andy (played by the very
talented Brian Sheppard), the back wall of the stage lights up with an impressive backdrop that
transports the audience from a small theater with a sparse set to a large and prestigious lecture
hall. For the duration of the play, Bridge Street Theater’s production makes the most of a small
stage, some bold backdrops, and sparse but impressively dynamic set to create a myriad of
different locations. Meanwhile the costumes, designed by Michelle Rogers, ground the audience
in a very specific cultural moment: the boho grunge world of west-coast intellectuals in the late

Sympathetic Magic is extremely character-driven, so it is lucky that Bridge Street’s production
has such a talented cast. There is no weak link among the cast, and all the actors in this
production deserve commendation; but there are a few standouts in the cast that deserve
additional praise. Molly Parker Myers plays the brilliant sculptor Barbara De Biers with
understated insecurity and resilience as she deals with an unplanned pregnancy and negative
gallery reviews. Terry Sidell plays Liz–a renowned anthropologist and Barbara’s emotionally
distant mother–with a compelling combination of ferocity and coldness that made her one of the
show’s most interesting characters despite her limited stage time. Timothy Dunn’s portrayal of
choirmaster Pauly is lively and fun for most of the play, but also heartbreaking in some
moments. One scene between Liz and Pauly toward the end of the play is particularly hartfelt,
and Dunn plays his comedic moments and his dramatic moments with great energy and
sincerity. And finally, Seth McNeill plays Father Don Walker with quiet stoicism that hints at the
emotional hardships the character has endured and continues to endure. This is particularly
apparent in a scene toward the end of the play where Don helps Andy pack his belongings,
fulfilling his Christian duty but coldly telling Andy “I have no solace for you.”

For all its focus on individual characters, Sympathetic Magic is also about the mysteries of the
universe and centers primarily on an astrophysicist on the brink of a world-altering discovery. As
all of the play’s characters live their lives, seek out personal achievements, and struggle with
their day-to-day troubles, we are repeatedly reminded of the vastness of the universe and the
insignificance of human life. Using the vastness of the universe as a foil to comment on the
combined profundity and insignificance of individual lives is hardly a groundbreaking take, but
this play does a good job of juxtaposing the foibles of the individual and the vastness of the universe in a way that makes both equally worthy of examination. While Sympathetic Magic
seems to hint at a truly profound meditation on the universe and our small places within it, I’m
not sure that Sympathetic Magic ever quite makes its point. Then again, perhaps the point is
that there is no point. Humans achieve and err, live and die, and the universe goes on.

Sympathetic Magic is a deeply existential and at times lofty play. But despite some forgivable
pretentions, Sympathetic Magic at Bridge Street Theater delivers a powerful and poignant
examination on life and the universe. Those who have no patience for existentialist rumination
may want to sit this play out; but for all the rest, Sympathetic Magic is an intriguing and delightful
play that stirs one’s intellect and emotions.

Bridge Street Theatre presents Sympathetic Magic by Lanford Wilson, directed by John Sowle,
runs from November 9-19, 2023, at the Bridge Street Theatre, 44 West Bridge Street in Catskill,
NY. Stage Manager: Hannarose Manning. Cast: Brian Sheppard as Ian Anderson (Andy), Seth
McNeill as Don Walker, Molly Parker Myers as Barbara De Biers, Timothy Dunn as Pauly Scott,
Abby Burris as Sue Olmstead, Nico Ager as Mickey Picco, Terry Sidell as Liz Barnard, and
Steven Patterson as Carl Conklin White. Sets by John Sowle. Lights and sound by Carmen
Borgia. Costumes by Michelle Rogers.

Performance dates are Thursday-Sunday. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday curtains are at
7:30pm and Sundays are matinees only at 2:00 pm. Tickets are $28, student tickets available
for $15. Runs approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. Contains
drinking, domestic abuse, and discussions of unplanned pregnancy and abortion.
Recommended for ages 13+. Tickets are available online at
/, by phone at 518-943-3818, or at the door for any performance. For more
information visit or email

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