By Abby Rosebrock; Directed by Taibi Magar
Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 1.26.19
Atlantic Theater Company, 336 West 20th Street
by Ken Kaissar on 1.7.19
Marin Ireland and Kristolyn Lloyd in Blue Ridge. Photo by Ahron R. Foster.
BOTTOM LINE: A brilliant new drama by Abby Rosebrock, performed flawlessly by a virtuoso ensemble.
Life is scary enough; when we meet troubled people who struggle with demons, some of us are inclined to walk in the other direction. But Abby Rosebrock’s brilliant new play Blue Ridge gives us a safe opportunity to get to know six deeply troubled characters, and after only two hours, we feel like we’ve known them for years.
Blue Ridge takes place in a halfway house somewhere in the Blue Ridge mountains of Appalachia, where four characters attempt to heal from disruptions in life caused by addiction, rage, and anti-social tendencies. Though each character suffers from demons, they all have the capacity to love and respect their peers, and a congenial family unit forms relatively quickly. The love and connection between Rosebrock’s characters is the script’s most endearing quality.
But as in any close-knit family, things get messy quickly. Family members simultaneously look out for each other and behave selfishly; they protect and smother, intervene and intrude. These vexing familial transactions are familiar, so we can easily empathize with every character.
Abby Rosebrock’s script is brilliant—understated without being vague, and volatile without being melodramatic. Every character is capable of inflicting harm, and yet no character is vilified or ostracized. When newcomer Alison (the inimitable Marin Ireland) meets Pastor Hern (the brilliant Chris Stack), one of the home’s counselors, she picks up on his creepy energy and habit to touch a shoulder or a knee unnecessarily. This subtly calls to mind tropes of gender politics without reducing the piece to a “#MeToo” play. When Hern’s deeper transgressions are revealed, Rosebrock carefully portrays him as a troubled man who struggles with inappropriate impulses rather than an irredeemable predator. This is no small achievement.
I’ve enjoyed Marin Ireland’s Off Broadway performances long before she started appearing on Broadway (not to mention countless TV shows), but her performance in Rosebrock’s play is easily my favorite. Blue Ridge is right within her sweet spot, and it gives her the opportunity to unleash her emotional instrument relentlessly. Though it was Ireland that hastened my attendance, the entire ensemble is fierce and unstoppable. Every member of this ensemble breaths life into their character without making obvious their technique or artistic process. The illusion each creates of a three-dimensional human being is uncanny, and scenes between Ireland, Kristolyn Lloyd, and Kyle Beltran are worthy of study at the finest acting schools.
Taibi Magar’s direction is just as subtle and complex as Rosebrock’s writing. Her staging is minimal in the early scenes of the play, allowing the audience to get to know each character without extraneous movement. But when the shit hits the fan, her compositions and stage pictures speak volumes about the emotional turmoil.
Although it's super early, I can easily say I have attended one of the great new plays of 2019 in the first week of January. Rosebrock’s biggest achievement is perhaps a playwright’s greatest challenge: to create three-dimensional characters equipped with humanity in every detail, from the sweat on their brow to the blood in their veins, which can be heard pounding from the last row of the theatre. Every character clearly has a heart, and there is nothing more captivating than to watch each one slowly break.
(Blue Ridge plays at Atlantic Theater Company, 336 West 20th Street, through January 26, 2019. The running time is 2 hours with an intermission. Performances are Tuesdays at 7; Wednesdays through Fridays at 8; Saturdays at 2 and 8; and Sundays at 2. Additional performances on Sun 1/13 at 7; Wed 1/16 and 1/23 at 2. Tickets are $66.50 and are available at atlantictheater.org or by calling 866-811-4111.)
Blue Ridge is by Abby Rosebrock. Directed by Taibi Magar. Set Design by Adam Rigg. Costume Design by Sarah Laux. Lighting Design by Amith Chandrashaker. Sound and Original Compositions by Mikaal Sulaiman. Stage Manager is David Lurie-Perret.
The cast is Kyle Beltran, Marin Ireland, Peter Mark Kendall, Nicole Lewis, Kristolyn Lloyd, and Chris Stack.