What is better than live theater when it comes to getting a human to contemplate life — and death? Maybe church, meditation, or yoga… but in a time when attention spans are so clipped close to the neuron, one could argue that dangerously live, up-close and personal performances offer an above-average backdoor entry into a person’s thinking.

In the Actors Bridge Ensemble directorial premier of Kodachrome, which opened this weekend —and plays another four shows next weekend, we get more than just a gateway into higher consciousness. In both metaphor and fact, audiences are invited to a non-stop ninety minute excursion into the minds of a handful of charismatic characters dealing with love, life and the pursuit of happiness. All this is curated in a way that moves across the black-box stage like a supremely well-narrated slide show. Click, now here is the person I love, click, there is the person they love, here is exactly what they are thinking, what I am thinking — click, snap, click.

The play, one of over a dozen penned by Portland, OR playwright Adam Szymkowicz (that’s right, two “Z”s in his family name), moves a watcher’s mind into clarity something like a negative and print paper merging inside a darkroom. The spectator’s thoughts are soaked, developed, stopped and fixed. Quite a metaphor for a journey of human realization — made all the more implicit by the earnest photographer deployed as narrator, the lens and the voice focussing the assembly’s attention and defining what is being discovered.

Rachel Agee, a first time director who must be what folks call a slow-bloomer — to have premiered with such a potent debut. Wow!

Directing her first play is a long-time Actor’s Bridge board member and veteran performer, Rachel Agee. In her introduction to the opening night performance, she joked “They all did good last night, so if it is not like that tonight, I don’t know what happened. It’s not my fault …” Rising to the confidence that hard work and preparation made possible, Agee’s ensemble cast of seven did not disappoint.

To start with, the script is good. Poignant when it had to be, funny throughout and paced with a snap, snap, snap — like the click of a camera. Every member of the cast was exceptional. That is to say that there were a few small parts, but no small actors. Driving home from the show, each character earned a review that included a favorite line, a challenging feat of performance (one actor, Hayley Jo Pellis, is called to facially create eight different emotions faster than a modern mime, all live, without the benefit of editing – bravo!) and a comment on the seamless synergy they displayed through their connection with the ongoing narrative.

It is tempting, and obvious, to lift up the performance of Mary Claire Reynolds, The Photographer, for special praise. The weight of the story is intrinsic to her role, her command of the stage mandatory for the pace and her ability to slide to the center and then the background of the audience’s attention, somewhat like watching close-at-hand magic — now you see it but now you can’t quite see all of it. But all those feats of art aside, Reynolds presents such a vulnerable and sincere and mesmerizing performance. Her rendition of this role is a blessed rarity one would be ill advised to miss. Her presence, projection of empathy and human experience demonstrate all that a skilled performer could ask of their time spent with a role.

Mary Claire Reynolds, the lead player in Kodachrome, who both invested in and withheld a magnetic charisma that made paying attention magically surprising.

So, as tempting as it is to make this all about Reynolds and her heroic performance, there were six other amazing actors assembled who portray fourteen other delightful pieces of this story. This troupe is like a person’s favorite buffet, capable of touching everyone in one way or another. Due to the tempo of the show, the taughtness of the narration and the intimacy of the Actor’s Bridge performance space, some of the best performances lasted no more than a moment and then were washed away like a ghost in the developer tray in our metaphoric darkroom. Click, click, shutter open, shutter close —

However, without wanting to diminish any other performances, a moment of personal privilege. Hanna Lipkind is simply an absolutely brave new talent who deserves Google alerts if you are like me and enjoy saying I knew them when. Here are some of the above and beyonds that, for me, made Lipkind’s a stand-out effort. 

Hannah Lipkind

Hanna Lipkind, character actor in Kodachrome, who, by my measure, makes acting feel easy and the possibilities somewhat boundless.

In this time where many are discovering the fluidity of gender, Hannah takes on the roles of three characters who present by name and characteristic as masculine. Again, like magic, they are all separated by such short bits of time as it might take a person to walk 20 paces and shuck off or on a garment. They were all distinct, developed and spot-on portraits of a cop we recognized, a young man we wished existed and a grave digger so vital for drawing conclusions that we could not have left the theater satisfied but for their fixed clarity.

Lipkind’s performances were so nuanced and fluid, at one point I thought each spoke out of a different side of their mouth, but I was never quite sure. What I was sure about was their humanity, their humility and their intensity. If acting can be measured by the wonder it can engender, it was Lipkind’s performances who made the show a remarkable night of theater. 

And as I tried to forewarn myself about writing the “Hooray for Hanna”, I could easily and should absolutely go on about Barry Kennedy, CJ Tucker, Nyazia Martin, Ani Pareek and Ms. Pellis. This cast is amazing. I want to hang out with each one of them as artists as well as the people they brought to life. That is saying something in this age of desirable digital distances. This ensemble, drawn together and directed by the talented and ebullient Ms. Agee, casts a spell on those who dare to bear witness to this joyous storytelling event.

What is the story about, you rightly ask. So secretive and veiled, I know. Much too simply, it is about a small group of people trying to get on into lives of love, being their authentic selves and mastering the consequences of their choices. It is a consciousness raising event that would be in danger of being minimized if definitions and descriptions were drawn too sharply. So bare with me, take a leap of faith and get yourself a ticket.

The Actor’s Bridge Studio will be staging this presentation of “Kodachrome” again next Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday (July 25-28). Thursday/ Friday/Saturday shows start at 7:30 and the final Sunday performance is at 6:00pm. Actor’s Bridge performance space is located in the first floor of the Dark Horse Theater at 4610 Charlotte Ave. Nashville, TN. For more info, click here.