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A CurtainUp Review

Curt: Your family is rich
Beth: No they're not
Curt: Yes they are. They have rooms in their house they don't even use

--- this interchange between the small town cop raised in a family where "a big dinner was deviled ham on crackers" and his middle-class girlfriend point to a relationship that's as shaky as his self-esteem.
Rachel Miner & Joel Murphy
Rachel Miner & Joel Murphy (Photo: Michal Daniel )
Like The Glory of Living which CurtainUp reviewed earlier in the season and which was a runnerup for this year's Pulitzer Prize, Blue Surge, Rebecca Gilman's latest play, doesn't tell a pretty story. While you might say that two of its characters provide half a happy ending, Blue Surge, like Glory deals with the effects of growing up in an economically and emotionally disadvantaged environment.

The playwright's focus has always been on a woman caught on the horns of a sociological dilemma and that woman here is eighteen-year-old Sandy (Rachel Miner), whose background contributes to her career choice as a prostitute. What's different this time around is that equal attention is given to a trapped by poverty and personality male -- Curt (Joe Murphy), a small town cop who becomes involved with her after a botched attempt to prove that the massage parlor where she works is a front for prostitution.

The drama has Gilman's characteristic strong voice and an attention-getting dramatic situation that sends the characters navigating life paths that are treacherously paved with grit and hypocrisy. The actors, three of whom originated their roles in the play's Chicago premiere, are solid enough to almost, if not quite, keep Gilman's issue-oriented playwriting from robbing the characters of flesh and blood credibility. The play's strenths are also enhanced by Robert Falls' strong direction, Walt Spangler's set props smoothly gliding on and off stage, and Brigit Rattenborg Wise's on the mark costumes -- all carryovers from the Chicago production.

Steve Key (Photo: Michal Daniel )
The meetings of cops posing as customers and hookers posing as masseuses are played out in two swiftly paced opening scenes which also set up a comic relief subplot involving Doug (Steve Key), Curt's best friend and fellow cop, and Heather (Colleen Werthmann). Doug's screwball, screw-up ways also paves the way for the playwright's eventually orchestrating a turnaround, in which the weaker characters reveal unexpected strengths.

A fifth character, Beth (Amy Landecker), the college educated, artistic girlfriend with whom Curt always feels on trial, adds an interesting issue about the class struggle that exists in our supposedly classless society. Beth has one powerful scene, a big blowup with Curt after she finds out that he has been seeing Sandy. As heretofore unstated feelings erupt into angry confrontation, it's clear where this relationship is headed, but it's just as clear that even this is a lacerating scene, can't save Beth from being a somewhat underwritten and unsatisfying character.

As indicated earlier, the actors all do excellent work. Rachel Miner beautifully brings out the vein of iron running through the hooker with a good head for business along with the perennial heart of gold. While Gilman's script specifies that Sandy should not be a knockout -- she is very much so. Joe Murphy, who occasionally brings Kevin Bacon to mind, keeps the conflicted, insecure Curt from coming across as a self-pitying whiner. Steve Key and Colleen Werthmann zestfully provide the humorous interludes.

In case you're wondering about the title, the second act begins with Duke Ellington's "Blue Serge", part of Beth's efforts to educate Carl about jazz. Carl is taken aback to discover that the title and the music which evoke a "surge of sadness" for him is really about a suit made out of cheap material. It's a nice metaphor for the deceptiveness of their relationship. It can also be used to sum up the play. It surges forward forcefully and full of good ideas, but it doesn't have quite the richness of a super fine quality cloth that's been tailored into a flawless garment. Still, even with flaws, Gilman's plays always add up to provocative theater.

Boy Gets Girl
The Glory of Living
Spinning Into Butter

Written by Rebecca Gilman
Directed by Robert Falls
Cast: Steve Key, Amy Landecker, Rachel Miner, Joe Murphy and Colleen Werthmann
Set Design: Walt Spangler
Costume Design: Birgit Rattenborg Wise
Lighting Design: Michael Philippi
Sound Design: Richard Woodbury
Running time: 2 hours, including one intermission
Public Theater's Anspacher Theater 425 Lafayette Street.; and 212-239-6200
4/09/02-5/12/02; opening 4/21/02
Tuesday through Saturdayat 8:00 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday at 7:00 p.m --.$45.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on April 20th press preview.

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