When I first saw Marin Ireland in last years Transport Group/CSC’s Summer and Smoke, I was literally blown away by the seductive and selective impulses that floated up and out of her, filling the space with something so special it was difficult to surmise. As Alma Winemiller, Ireland played the Tennessee Williams leading lady “to Southern twang perfection“, and here in Abby Rosebrock’s Blue Ridge, she reveals another fine tuned character but with a far edgier layer to her brilliance, playing the compulsive Alison whose anger management issues seem to fly out of her mouth as quickly and cruelly as an axe to a car door. She fills the space with her cutting chatter, riding high on Rosebrock’s (Dido of Idaho) volatile story-telling, and even when it meanders around the half way house a bit lazily, Ireland finds a way to bring it all back into tough talking focus.
As directed with a powerful clarity for problematic personas, Taibi Magar (Ars Nova’s Underground Railroad Game) drives this van full of characters to the cliff, slowly and definitively finding the sharp edges for each to cut themselves on if they aren’t careful. The cast flourishes on that dangerously sharp corner, most notably, Kyle Beltran (Public’s Fire in Dreamland) as the engagingly adorable Wade, who pulls us into his innocence but keeps us on edge for what may lie beneath. He’s written in a manner that many are defined in Rosebrock’s exploration of power dynamics in recovery; fascinatingly vulnerable but guarded and mysterious, which is a compliment to her style and complicated bravado. We aren’t, for example, told outright what makes a man like Pastor Hern, played solidly by Chris Stack (RTC’s Ugly Lies the Bone) tick and flirt away from his mouse, but from the little we are told, we are mightily intrigued. They each have their slice of trauma and attack to unpack, but rarely do we see all the undergarments pulled from the baggage they bring to this house of recovery and amends making. But what little we are shown, is enough to draw us forward, as it is with the formulation of Cole, the redneck arrival, played powerfully simple by the talented Peter Mark Kendall (Broadway’s Six Degrees of Separation, LCT’s The Harvest) when the people, places, and things fire up Alison with enough spit and vengeance to stand up and say I, I, I, until almost blue in the face.
In defense of ‘The Sound of Music’ (I’m not going to explain that devilishly smart divide, just go see this fascinating creation), the ‘Hard Candy Christmas‘ confrontation starts spinning forward and a little out of control, especially when Jesus, in the form of the smart and very current playwright, takes the wheel and drives erratically forward, claiming the song wasn’t exactly the inspiration. The sound choices surprise and enlighten, as the play pushes forth a confrontation against the high power of male insecurity, claiming it to be “the root of all evil”, with Alison leading the charge. She wants to protect and defend, especially on behalf of the love-struck and naive Cherie, played dynamically by Kristolyn Lloyd (Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen), but finds a way to smash herself up against all that she holds dear. Even the gloriously centered and perfectly named Grace, embodied by the wonderful Nicole Lewis (Broadway’s Hair, Rent) can not find away to slow down Alison’s word train of destruction, and is left to clean up the mess left crying on the floor. It’s spell-bounding theatre, watching a woman so full of pain and anger collide with souls who are just as lost and damaged as she, but somewhat more aware of the carnage they have caused.
“For me, it always starts with a man“, but within bible study Wednesday on the cleverly masked set by Adam Rigg (Signature’s Fabulation), with perfectly detailed costuming by Sarah Laux (ATC’s On the Shore…), simple and direct lighting by Amith Chandrashaker (Ars Nova’s The Lucky Ones), and solid sound design by Mikaal Sulaiman (Ars Nova’s Rags Parkland), the men are the creators of the problems, and the women are the one’s seemingly affected and somehow feel the brunt. Alison is the centrifugal force of the play, the apparent action outwards that slaps and hits all that stands around. She is a self-proclaimed non-addict, surrounded by members of the 12-step program, but in many ways she projects the biggest addict of them all, motor-mouthed like a meth addict, in denial and dangerous even when she wants to save. Her anger is the carbonic fuel, but her actions arise from her body’s mental anguish. Rosebrock leaves a lot hanging in the trees, unanswerable and unquestioned pain, with a fringe of compassion, mostly in the eyes of Grace. But it’s Alison’s story that grabs hold, and Ireland that brings it home to Blue Ridge with a power that is undeniable and without boundaries.