Abby Rosebrock’s Blue Ridge is so utterly confusing by the end that if it weren’t for the fantastic cast – especially the luminescent Marin Ireland – I would have felt absolutely cheated of my time and emotions spent on this work.
Set in a North Carolina, faith-based halfway house run by Hern (Chris Stack), a man who likes the sound of his own voice – especially his sermons – and his best friend, the maternal Grace (Nicole Lewis). The residents Cherie (Kristolyn Lloyd) and Wade (Kyle Beltran) who are there for addiction problems are welcoming the newcomer, Alison (Marin Ireland), a high school English teacher who took an ax to her lover’s car. Turns out she was having an affair with the married school principal and did not take kindly to him dumping her. Alison explains her violent act by referencing Carrie Underwood songs “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and “Before He Cheats”. By the end of her sharing time, it is obvious that she has anger management issues, abandonment issues, and is desperate to be noticed and loved.
Enter newcomer Cole (Peter Mark Kendall), a vet who suffers from intermittent explosive disorder, or IED. He falls for the dramatic, attention-grabbing Allison. When she needs him, he comforts her, but cannot take her payback and we never know the why of this.
All Alison wants is to get back to her life. She bonds with Cherie due to the fact she is a former French teacher. Cherie has a drinking problem but is also involved with a man who is not available. Alison feels protective towards her and relates. She tries to persuade Cherie to drop him and when she finds out who he is, she uses it to help herself, but to also help her friend. She is blamed for this and yet the perpetrator goes blameless and loses nothing. I do not understand this at all.
It’s hard to review this play and not give away spoilers.
The actors all give spectacular performances, with Mr. Kendall’s scene with Ms. Ireland where his emotions are displayed all over his face running the gamut, a highlight. However, it is Ms. Ireland whose explosive performance is filled with mesmerizing energy and creativeness. She is so restless that she is combustible with pain, manipulation, and want. When she rolls on the floor quoting Blanche DuBois, we know we are seeing just how Blanche descended into madness.
The direction by Taibi Magar seems too calculated. I am not sure if it was the direction or the script which seems half finished and trying to shove too many issues into 2 hours. Somehow race, class, dependency, and mental illness are all thrown into the mix, but if there are race and class issues here, it seems to me they are fabricated. These are all highly damaged humans and I do not see how this fits in.
Ms. Rosebrock writes dialogue that you want to hear, characters that we want to know, and gives us information that we want and need answers to. Sadly, she plays with our emotions by dropping a last-minute revelation that is here and then gone and lands a one-two punch with no explanation.
Blue Ridge made me angry, confused, and cheated. Thank God for Marin Ireland, who could make me cheer at reading the phone book and the rest of this superb cast.
Blue Ridge: Atlantic Theater Company at the Linda Gross Theater 336 West 20th St. until Jan. 26th.