The Atlantic Theater Company’s production of Blue Ridge is only a minor misstep for star Marin Ireland, and hopefully mere missteps not indicative of more long-term deficiencies for up-and-coming playwright Abby Rosebrock and director Taibi Magar.
Let’s dissect them in that order.
My adoration of Marin Ireland has been previously documented — she’s the best off-Broadway actor working today; YEAH, I SAID IT!!! — but in Blue Ridge, she turns in more of a caricature than a character. It’s a fully-embodied performance, as per the usual for her, but she relies a bit too much on physical tics and forced quirkiness, neither of which prove to be sufficient inroads into the role’s interiority. She’s still top-tier, but it’s one of her weaker portrayals.
Then again, it’s hard to figure out how much blame to place at the tip of Abby Rosebrock’s pen (er, keyboard?). Her New York premiere, Dido of Idaho at the Ensemble Studio Theatre (an intimate haven for fresh emerging playwrights), showed immense promise, heralding a new comic voice with pathos to spare; it’s rare to find stage comedy so rooted in depth of theme. But in Blue Ridge, her voice boasts no discernible tone (she does yet again flaunt her deft ability at concocting dynamo Act One finales). There’s a monotonous rhythm to the dialogue — and its delivery — that’s not convincing, and it falls short of achieving a theatrically-enhanced style and pace.
Then again then again, blame for that could be placed at the feet of Taibi Magar. Despite crafting inventively-realized worlds by nailing down their intricately-precise tones in such past work as Ars Nova’s Underground Railroad Game, Foundry Theatre’s Master, and Soho Rep’s Is God Is (I defy anyone to find three stronger outings in as many years; I tragically missed her Atlantic Theater debut last year, Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap, which I heard was great), she seems to skirt along the surface of Rosebrock’s text.
Then again then again then again, there may not be much underneath that surface. Nothing here makes a significant impression, nor even affects you on a meaningful level. It’s a toothless experience, rarely sinking its teeth into the audience.
Stray Take 1: Adam Rigg’s set design basically communicates more than every other component of the production combined. Given the Bible Study Group premise, the horticultural decor — the flower-print furniture, the Christmas tree decorations, the wood furnishings — evoke the Garden of Eden, and its relevant themes to this story: pleasure, desire, awareness of self, original sin, shame, inherited and ingrained misogyny, good and evil.
And then there’s the nature scenes with a heavenly glow seen through the tiny cracks in the backing blinds. As much as the recovering faithful are trying to carve out a safe space for themselves within these walls, the troubled disorder in the order of humanity — represented by the interplay between nature and Adam and Eve’s place in it — can’t help but seep through our attempts to cordon off an organized zone for ourselves, ruining our chance to order that disorder.
Stray Take 2: The Playbill advertises “one brief intermission”, and yet it lasted 10 minutes, a not uncommon length. What gives?