By Abby Rosebrock
Directed by Taibi Magar
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Abby Rosebrock introduces an interesting mélange of broken characters in her new play “Blue Ridge” currently running at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater. She drops these six disparate “recovering” personalities into the vortex of a Christian halfway house in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. Pastor Hern (a cagey but caring Chris Stack) and his partner Grace (a sincere and dedicated Nicole Lewis) run the place and come to the enterprise with their own baggage. Their twelve-step-type program includes daily Bible study, meditation, community service, and help securing required employment.
It is at one of the Bible study sessions that we meet the current residents Cherie (a trusting and dependent Kristolyn Lloyd) and Wade (a sensitive and contemplative Kyle Beltran) as well as newcomers Alison (a fiery and rage-filled Marin Ireland) and Cole (a vulnerable and playful Peter Mark Kendall). As with any family system – and this family is systemically dysfunctional – the addition of Alison and Cole disrupts any sense of equilibrium that had developed at the house prior to their arrival. Alison has been remanded to the halfway house after axing her ex-lover and boss Glenn’s Honda and losing her teaching license (he was her principal). Cole arrives shortly after hoping for an alternate place to recover.
Alison substitutes sharing her bible verse by “comparing diametrically opposed, country Western texts that uh. Not only, resonate powerfully, with the current moment in my life but, also probly, represent the two spiritual poles’uh my entire existence [sic].” She parses Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel” and “Before He Cheats” to exemplify her willingness to “Let Go and Let God” and to inexplicably justify her axing Glenn’s Honda. Both Cherie and Wade find the references odd and question the wisdom of taking one’s hands off the wheel while driving. Pastor Hern agrees. An important foreshadowing of things to come.
As multidimensional and multileveled as these characters are, the playwright never allows them to develop fully as they interact with their “peers” in the halfway house. For example, Cole – a character who has a rich healing presence – leaves as quickly as he arrived after an uncomfortable albeit important encounter with Alison and the audience never is quite sure how Pastor Hern has managed to carry on the secret relationship with Cherie or what his motivation was for founding the halfway house.
Abby Rosebrock chooses to tackle a myriad of relevant and important themes, including: psychosexual trauma and dysfunction; sexual, cultural, and racial dynamics; dynamics of sexual status; power and the various ways men (specifically) can exercise and misuse that power in relationships and in the workplace (Me Too Movement). Although no one of these themes receives an exhaustive exploration in “Blue Ridge,” an interesting aggregate of these problems is examined in the relationship between Hern (who has a girlfriend) and house resident Cherie (referenced above) with whom he has an inappropriate relationship.
It is here that Ms. Rosebrock makes her most compelling argument and raises the most rich and enduring questions. Everyone in the halfway house has either voluntarily relinquished control of their lives or have been asked to compromise the control they should have over their own lives. As each member comes to terms with those things they have not dealt with, the family dynamic changes and the structure itself begins to dissolve. Taibi Magar directs “Blue Ridge” with acute care allowing each actor to explore their character’s conflicts and the resolution of those conflicts. In the process, the characters experience vulnerability, rage, and pain allowing the audience members to explore their own paths to recovery.