“I, I, I took the blows, in my face, and my body,” Marin Ireland as Alison says dramatically falling to the floor of the church-run halfway house in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina. Alison, a fired English teacher, is quoting Blanche DuBois from A Streetcar Named Desire, in a crafty foreshadowing in Abby Rosebrock’s “Blue Ridge,” a comedy that morphs into an intensely acted drama.
Alison was fired, and has been sentenced to this halfway house, because she took an axe to the car of the principal of her high school, who was her boss and her married lover. But the woman
seems so intelligent, good-natured and self-aware – and she is such a source of wisdom and comfort to the other residents — that we know she is just play-acting when she briefly quotes Tennessee Williams’ deeply damaged Blanche.
As the play unfolds, however, we see that Alison is warped by rage, far more damaged than we realized – and not just self-destructive, but also destructive.
Ireland’s remarkable performance brings out the full range and force of Alison’s personality with every gesture and expression. And she is not alone. Rosebrock’s script feels flawed at times in two contrary ways — sometimes aimlessly meandering, sometimes abruptly implausible. But under the direction of Taibi Magar (Is God Is), the production serves as a stellar showcase for some riveting acting by all six members of the cast. Each character is struggling with his or her own challenges, such as addiction to drugs or alcohol, and each actor reveals layers that brilliantly undermine our initial impressions. Peter Mark Kendall is terrific as Cole, a country boy and veteran who seems at first just comically unsophisticated but reveals how tragically complicated his trauma. Kristolyn Lloyd is supremely watchable as Cherie, a former French teacher who voluntarily checked herself in to bring her alcoholism under control, and, like Alison, shows in concrete terms just how women must struggle for love in a society stacked against them. Kyle Beltran has shown himself an actor of understated magnificence in everything I’ve seen him in (Fortress of Solitude, Gloria, Fire in Dreamland, you name it) and his performance here as Wade is no exception. Chris Stack as Pastor Hern and Nicole Lewis as Grace, the halfway house administrator, seem at first just to be the glue that holds the residents together, but each grapples with their own conflicts and contradictions. All six engage in a series of intense, staccato one-on-one scenes in the second half of “Blue Ridge” that feel like master classes in acting.
Click on any photograph by Ahron R. Foster to see it enlarge.
Written by Abby Rosebrock; Directed by Taibi Magar.
Scenic design by Adam Rigg, costume design by Sarah Laux, lighting design byAmith Chandrashaker, sound design by Mikaal Sulaiman.
Cast:Kyle Beltran, Marin Ireland, Peter Mark Kendall, Nicole Lewis, Kristolyn Lloyd and Chris Stack
Running time: 2 hours including one intermission.
Blue Ridge is scheduled to run through January 26, 2019.