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Minutes from the Blue Route

In many ways Tom Donaghy Minutes From the Blue Route is a continuation of Northeast Central which marked his Broadway debut at Lincoln Center's Mitzie Newhouse Theater. The new play is once again noteworthy for incisive dialogue, a well-directed production and forceful acting. It also retrains its lens on an ordinary family whose members are pieces in the larger patchwork of contemporary American life, particularly as lived by those falling into the lower middle class.

Northeast Central moved through some three decades, leaving an image of time galloping past a group of people with gridlocked dreams. In Minutes from the Blue Route everything is compressed into one long weekend--specifically Labor Day with its picnics and weddings and talk of the next election. The focus is not so much on how time races by but on how it stretches before even the fifty-ish older generation, fearful about a government unlikely to offer an economic safety net no matter who's in charge. Their fears about money, loss and aging are partly circumstantial and partly the result of their inability to communicate with each other or their children who are immobilized by their own insecurities

The play's dramatic momentum flows from immediate decisions facing Donaghy's nameless family, known only as father, mother, oldest, youngest. Father is being downsized into early retirement. Mother is working at an apparently fun-less job which does little to assuage her terror of aging in an age when the golden years are forged more from brass than gold. The homosexual son is stalled in his career as a magician and his personal connections, the latter painfully evident when he exclaims that he's almost thirty and still doen't know how to talk. And the youngest and brightest, is too mixed up to decide between using her college scholarship or living with her boyfriend. It is the sister's floundering after an accident (or what is vaguely referred to as an accident), that has led to the son's recall home to help get her back on track.

As the play opens the home, a typical tract house close to the Blue Route that leads to the nearby city in one direction and a nebulous unknown in the other, is close to being sold after a fruitless "for sale" period. The son has arrived but seems bent on leaving almost immediately. He tells the mother he can't stay long and she responds "no, no, we know." The pattern of cryptic communication, laden with hidden subtext, is set. It doesn't take long to realize that the connecting link in this family is anxiety which attacks each differently but with equal force. As they continue to talk at and around each other, almost as if they were in separate rooms, it becomes clear that whatever is said signals something that is left unsaid. If this sounds a bit theater of the absurd-ish, well so it is. It's also sporadically funny, and for all its enigmatic tone, not particularly difficult to fathom. Much of this is attributable the excellence of the cast and the direction. The rest stems from the fact that this family's problems are familiar to millions of other lower middle and middle-middle people for whom the American Dream has taken on a somewhat nightmarish tinge of economic insecurity, and worries particular to an age where having a Gay son also means having to worry about his illness and possible death.

The play which unfolds as one long act performed with an intermission is probably best described as a slice of life drama--four slices, to be exact, dished up without fireworks but with a number of wonderfully moving moments between mother and son, brother and sister, father and daughter. The most dramatic incident, a car accident, is like everything else, not earth shattering. It leaves both parents in neck braces but without traumatic injury. And therein lies the message, if you're determined to take a message away from this evening: These are people who have been battered by fate, but not so badly that they won't survive. And so, while this is hardly a comedy as we saw it listed somewhere, it's also not a Greek tragedy.

While Northeast Central told its story in much more detail, the more compressed and less specific action in Minutes From the Blue Route leaves a sharper impression. The playwright's decision to leave the pawns on this dramatic chessboard nameless is a major misstep. This namelessness tends to keep these ordinary people from imprinting themselves on the audience's memory as extraordinary characters, giving them instead the aura of models for the flesh-and-blood real thing.

The actors as already stated admirably back up Donaghy's script. Elizabeth Franz brings the right combination of manic tension and irony to her role as the mother. Matt McGrath is properly nervous and befuddled as the son and Catherine Kellner is fine as the daughter and sister. Stephen Mendillo the father aptly portrays the most laid-back but no less troubled member of this foursome. Derek McLane also warrants praise for his spare set with its living room facing another look-alike tract home and its front door leading to the Blue Route to anywhere U.S.A. .

©right January 1997, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp. Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from

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