Monday, November 03, 2008

Blue Before Morning

Lights up on a chintzy-looking car and a wall made out of black suitcases: consider this re-enforcement of the positives and negatives of Kate McGovern's new play, Blue Before Morning. Over the next ninety minutes, a lot of things are squeezed into that car and rather showily discussed, but very little actually opens up, and that wall of baggage never comes down. In truth, the play is a little well-planned for a spontaneous road trip, one caused when the young Ava (Kether Donohue) hails a cab driven by the amiable Jerry (Chris McKenney), and manages to guilt him into driving her from New York City to South Carolina. Along the way, he picks up a third-trimester hitcher, Ella (Jenny Maguire), as he can't stand to see her get soaked. While Gia Forakis's neatly choreographed segues work (accelerated video shows the passage of time), McGovern's short scenes ("Doughnuts," "Obstacles," "Birthdays,") come across as overplanned.

And yet, none of this really seems to matter until the unresolved ending: the trip itself is very pleasant, and McGovern's manages to keep her rather broad characters interesting by giving them all flashbacks--detours, if you will--that shed light on their motivations. Ava, of course, is in a hurry to see her estranged, former-addict of a mother, Eileen (Jennifer Dorr White), and that explains her prickly needs; Ella, on the other hand, is fleeing from her boyfriend, Steve (Flaco Navaja), though not--as we learn--because of any flaws on his loving part. These aren't especially deep explanations, but they're what we want to hear, and most importantly, they're easily digestible discoveries. The heart of the play, however, comes from Jerry's relationship with Rita (Phyllis Johnson), for it's a sad tale of a marriage in decline from a lack of aspirations, something Blue Before Morning knows a thing or two about, always stopping short of anything real.

Instead, a large chunk of Blue Before Morning is spent cramped inside a melodramatic car, with emotions flickering on and off as easily as the radio--there's even a musical accompaniment from Jerry, a Beatles fan. In many ways, the play is about the need to grow up, but perhaps too much time is spent worry about whether or not everyone's gotten there yet. The best moments in the play come from when McGovern takes her hands off the wheel and just lets the characters drift naturally through their memories. After all, as that famous saying goes about travel, if you really want to have an experience, you have to be willing to get lost.

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