A focus on the ensemble has been a defining—and satisfying—characteristic of the Clarence Brown Theatre season so far—and it continues on that course with Craig Lucas’ Blue Window in the Lab Theatre of CBT. This vehicle, though, is a bit more complicated in that it requires its audience to sift through the commonplace conversations of seven people at a New York City party, searching for layers of character to peel away looking for an underlying truth. When the answer finally comes, it isn’t at all to the question we thought we were asking. Instead, Lucas snatches away the dramatic cloth that has been concealing his premise—the struggle of the individual with personal commitments, both romantic and otherwise. That struggle is the “blue window.” What seems to matter, we are told, is whether one is looking out or looking in.
As it turns out, that premise is suggested obliquely as the play begins, and then directly in the final scene; all seven people are preparing for a party, all on stage in separate areas representing their own living spaces. Dialog overlaps, self-deception is hinted at, telephone conversations go awry, and frustrating suggestions of character are offered.
The party’s host is Libby (Emily Helton), a 33-year old single woman, who has undertaken the task of having a get-together despite having the oddly unrevealed difficulty of connecting with others. In her preparations for the party, she breaks a front tooth, leading her to cover her mouth when forced to speak. At first, this seems like a useless distraction, an odd plot point, to be sure, but one that returns with a dramatic vengeance.
Also single are two men guests, both interested in Libby: Griever (Owen Squire Smith), a comically hyper, quasi-narcissist sort, that Libby seems to be dating—and Norbert (Luke Atchley), a sky-diving instructor with whom Libby is taking instructions. Similar to the broken tooth issue, Lucas barely lets it slip that Libby has yet to make a jump, unable to commit to the act. Again, this is a plot point of apparent insignificance that turns out to be anything but.
Alice (Meg Sutherland), a published author, and her partner, Boo (Lauren Winder), a family therapist, are having their own understated crisis borne by ego and the inability to compromise. Emily (Gracie Belt) and Tom (Curtis Bower) have their own particular issues; Tom, overly absorbed with a song he is writing, all but ignores Emily, who is superficially passive. Oddly, it is Emily that reveals much more in a song [lyrics by William Bolcom, music for this production by director Terry Silver-Alford], performed as an aside, that lets the audience in on the dynamics of their relationship.
Helton’s Libby offered the biggest surprise of the evening in which she not only revealed an incredible event in her life, and the reason for the metaphorical broken tooth, but also in her choice of companion. Helton’s delivery of that story was so dramatically convincing and natural that it could have almost been mistaken for improvisation.
Silver-Alford kept the pace moving in a work that seems to require razor-sharp retorts punctuating the calm of narrative speeches. The execution of those overlapping and simultaneous narratives is not a simple thing to pull off with credibility—admiration is certainly due.
Design-wise, Becca Johnson’s set of movable bookcases and furniture items worked well against the metaphorically and symbolically blue-lit backing structure. Jordan Vera’s lighting brought a lot of dimension to the small set, and most importantly, to the actors and their personalities. Amber Williams’ choice of clothing for the characters seemed to be an extension of their persona.
This production of Craig Lucas’ Blue Window continues at the Clarence Brown Theatre’s Lab Theatre through November 12. Tickets