Saturday, December 29, 2018

Blue Ridge


Atlantic Theater Company is presenting the world premiere of Abby Rosebrock’s (Dido of Idaho) drama set in a church-sponsored halfway house in the mountains of western North Carolina. I don’t know much about halfway houses, but I found it surprising that the residents were there for such varied problems as opioid addiction, alcoholism, mental illness and anger management. The main focus is on the self-destructive Alison (Marin Ireland; Summer and Smoke, The Big Knife), a devoted high school English teacher at the local high school who, after a long affair with her married principal, attacked his car with an axe and was sentenced to a six-month stay there. She immediately befriends Cherie (Kristolyn Lloyd; Paradise Blue, Dear Evan Hansen), another high school teacher, who is a recovering alcoholic voluntarily there. Cherie is black, but her race does not seem to be a significant issue for anyone. She likes it at the group home and thinks she might switch to a career in social work or public health. Wade (Kyle Beltran; The Fortress of Solitude, Gloria) became addicted to prescribed drugs after a work accident. and blames some of his problems on his mixed race. Cole (Peter Mark Kendall; Six Degrees of Separation, The Harvest) has just been discharged from a mental institution; his reasons for being institutionalized never become sufficiently clear. The founders and staff of the home are Hern (Chris Stack; Ugly Lies the Bone), a white pastor, and Grace (Nicole Lewis; Hair, Sense and Sensibility), his black colleague. The residents not only must hold day jobs in the community but must also undertake service projects as part of their treatment. We see the six interact, mainly at a series of bible study meetings. The lyrics of Carrie Underwood songs are cited. Wade gets to sing and play the guitar. The first act builds slowly to a surprising climax that I did not see coming. The second act features a gripping emotional meltdown, but then spins its wheels and ends on an unsatisfying note. Adam Rigg’s (Fabulation, The House That Will Not Stand) set presents the home’s nondescript living room with a hint of evergreen trees peeking through the vertical blinds. The set is surrounded by a frame that lights up brightly between scenes. Sarah Laux’s (The Band’s Visit, The Humans) costumes suit the characters well. Director Taibi Magar (The Great Leap) shows an affinity for the material. For me the opportunity to see Marin Ireland emote was reason enough to attend. The rest of the fine cast more than holds its own onstage with her. At its best moments, the play is quite gripping. It’s just good enough that one wishes it were even better. Running time: two hours including intermission.

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