Strong Cast Lifts Bridge Rep’s ‘Mud Blue Sky’ (4.5 Stars)

by Mike Hoban

 

Mud Blue Sky – Written by Marissa Wegrzyn; Directed by Bridget Kathleen O'Leary; Scenic Design by Esme Allen; Costume Design by Bridgette Hayes; Lighting Design by Joe Short; Sound Design by Skylar Burks. Presented by Bridge Repertory Theater of Boston at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, Deane Hall, 527 Tremont St, Boston through June 5.


I’ve always thought of life on the road is one of those existences that looks really alluring, but unless you’re a rock star or on a book tour, I suspect the reality is that it’s as mundane any 9-5 job, minus the comfort of home, friends, and family. So for every wonderful city those folks get to visit and however many connections (romantic or otherwise) they may make with fascinating strangers, there’s probably an exponential number of nights with fast food, lots of self-medicating and cable TV – be it porn or Bravo, two of the go-to laugh devices in Bridge Rep’s engaging production of Mud Blue Sky. In it, playwright Marissa Wegrzyn takes on one of the most glamorized of the road professions – flight attendant – and gives us a very funny but ultimately sobering look at the lives of middle-aged women reaching the end of their careers in the once-glamorous profession.


The play begins with world-weary Beth (Leigh Barrett) and the still-striking party girl Sam (Deb Martin) in a cookie-cutter name brand hotel room near O’Hare Airport on a layover, contemplating their plans for the evening. Sam is up for IHOP and an evening of barhopping (despite an early morning flight) with a female co-worker whose name she can’t remember, and wants Beth to join in on the fun. Beth just wants to kick back, turn in early and rest her injured back. Or does she? After Sam fails at trying to cajole her into a night of drinking and carousing, she leaves, and Beth is immediately on the phone with her pot dealer, high school senior Jonathan, who coincidentally has been dumped on prom night by his date.


She meets him in the hotel parking lot and smokes a joint of his “good stuff”, and the two engage in a fairly heartfelt – albeit baked – conversation. It is here where we first begin to see how largely directionless Beth’s life has been, especially when she tells Jonathan that she is thinking of retiring from the airlines to open a microbrewery – without actually knowing anything about the business. Beth (who has never had children of her own) then attempts to console the distraught Jonathan about his being dumped, but while she is helpful in terms of trying help him gain a proper perspective on the mindset of pretty teenage girls, much of her later advice is clearly coming from someone who has learned to accept life as a string of inevitable disappointments.


The conversation soon develops into a childish argument, as Beth is short (again) on what she owes her young dealer for the pot, so she invites him up to her room to get the money to square up. This sets the stage for what could have easily devolved into a sitcom style comedy (complete with Jonathan hiding in the bathroom when Sam unexpectedly comes knocking at the door), but instead it’s where the play begins to turn weightier and darker. And it works.


This is a well-written 90-minute piece, aided greatly by solid direction and some outstanding performances by three of Boston’s premier actresses. Leigh Barrett (best known for her prodigious musical theater talents) gives a layered performance as Beth, first as a woman in despair about the bad decisions she’s made with her life, and later when she redeems herself as a compassionate friend; Deb Martin, who in recent years has excelled at playing some of the most insanely driven and angry characters on Boston stages, is a riot as the hedonistic Sam (but still manages to release some well-timed crazy in her performance); and Veronica Anastasio Wiseman (who ably stepped in for an injured Eliot Norton/IRNE Best Actress winner Adrianne Krstansky a week after the run began) as Angie, who was forced out of her job two years earlier for gaining weight and now cares for her elderly mother. Despite barely being off-book, Wiseman delivers a spellbinding monologue about a passenger she encounters on Christmas Eve that helps to elevate the play out of the straight comedy category. Northeastern student and relative newcomer Kaya Simmons holds his own with this esteemed company as the teenage pot salesman.


There aren’t any earth shattering themes in this play, but the explosively funny first half combined with the deeper character studies in the second make this production soar, even if the skies aren’t so blue anymore for its protagonists. For more info, go to: http://bridgerep.weebly.com/mud-blue-sky.html