Monday, September 7, 2015

"Mud Blue Sky"

Mud Blue Sky
Marisa Wegrzyn

Sam (c. l, Rebecca Dines) sends Jonathan (c. r, Devin O’Brien)
on an errand as Angie (r, Laura Jane Bailey) watches
and Beth (l, Jamie Jones) pours herself another drink
in Aurora Theatre Company’s Mud Blue Sky
In case there is any audience member still hanging onto idealized visions of how glamorous traveling the skies is for today’s airline attendant, those yesteryear dreams are quickly dashed in the opening minute of Aurora Theatre Company’s regional premiere of Marisa Wegrzyn’s Mud Blue Sky.  The first sounds from the limping, uniformed woman entering a cookie-cutter-looking hotel room that could be any city’s Holiday Inn (wonderfully designed by Kate Boyd) are a pained “AHHH” as she struggles to get high-heeled shoes off her seemingly swollen feet.  She goes through a routine in the still darkened room clearly performed from memory of a hundred other entrances preceding it (wipe down sink area, pull back/jump back from shower curtain to be sure no one is there, look carefully under the bed for whatever may be hiding).  She then turns on the light; plops on the quilted, rather ugly bedspread; and moans.  And now the play and her few short overnight hours in Chicago begin.

Beth is a single mom who once ‘stopped’ college (but did not ‘quit’ as she later argues voraciously) to become an airline attendant (then call ‘stewardess’).  Her back hurts and she desperately wants to smoke a joint to relax.  And she certainly does not want to talk to anyone else after her long day of smiling and serving drinks up and down the aisles at 30K feet.  But her co-attendant Sam will have none of that and manipulates the evening for an eventual in-room reunion with their once-colleague, now-fired friend Angie (dumped because of her ever-increasing weight) and with Angie’s bottle of $400 cognac.  But before Sam succeeds in crashing Beth’s plans for a quiet night of relaxing, extremely cute and attractively shy Jonathan arrives in the parking lot below with Beth’s ‘stash’ for the night and soon ends up in her room watching porn while she sleeps in her now-stoned state.  (By the way, it is his prom night; he is handsomely dressed in tux; and his ‘hot’ date has ditched him by 9 p.m.)  Now how all this really happens and what hilarious, fantastically funny circumstances occur along the way are only to be seen to be believed.  But suffice it to say these four soon find themselves in this same, chintzy room telling jokes and stories, revealing deeply held resentments, sharing untold secrets, unloading doubts and fears, and even shedding a few tears of regret and sorrow – all while still initiating rounds of uproarious laughter from the audience.

Marisa Wegrzyn’s smart script of fast-clipped interchanges and moments of deep, self-disclosures along with Tom Ross’ directorial decisions of how to pull off sitcom-like scenes that really work (boy hiding in shower while sexy, older woman pees, e.g.) combine with a well-cast foursome for a production that never falters in its 95, uninterrupted minutes.  Jamie Jones is the brooding, clearly-exhausted-with-her-life Beth whose demonstrated emotional state is a roller coaster with abrupt turns, shocking twists, and extreme highs and lows.  She leads us on a scavenger hunt to discover the real her as she reaches out in one moment to make genuine connections with each of the others and in the next, shuts each down with insults, dismissals, or physical withdrawal.  But the journey we travel with her leads to our seeing the real heart and soul of Beth; and Ms. Jones is masterful in her orchestrating Beth’s evening of rediscovering what life might offer next. 

Bay Area stage favorite Rebecca Dines bring perkiness, sassiness, and loads of frenetic energy to Sam, not to mention a delicious sexy attitude that is probably more show than real (as we will discover).  Sam is on the surface all happy and fun; but she also worries about her 17-year-old son at home by himself, questions her real worth as a mother, and also seeks a few real connections that are difficult to come by in her life in the skies.  All it takes is a phone text from her son for Ms. Dines to show us the real Sam underneath the glitz and the smiles.

Anyone who has ever had a teenage son will quickly applaud Devin S. O’Brien’s slumping, shy but clearly seeking-something-unsaid portrayal of Jonathan.  His words are few, but his presence is powerful.  While he should be so out of place in this room full of women who could be his mom, he actually always seems to be right at home and exactly where he wants and should be.  How he got to be drug-dealing, why he probably seeks out this company of women tonight, and what he both gives and receives in this evening of revelations of the past and resolutions for the future are all convincingly conveyed by the talented Mr. O’Brien.

And then there is Angie, so ably played by Laura Jane Bailey.  Deemed by her employer no longer acceptable due to her weight, Angie comes to the hotel room seeking reunion with two women who are probably less close as friends than any of them will admit.  (How close can any two airline attendants be as they crisscross the country sharing carts on a narrow aisle or a drink at some unknown bar before crashing for a few hours in yet another cheap hotel?)  The joy Ms. Bailey shows as she longingly reunites with two of her lost colleagues, the depth of loss and sadness she unveils after a couple of cognacs, and the long-carried burden she releases lying next to a comforting Beth are all wonderful and powerful to witness.

The azure skies from the classic Pan Am posters are certainly stained a bit after seeing Mud Blue Sky.  However, the three flight attendants and their drug-dealing teen friend-for-the night help us see clearly their challenges of how to make and keep connections, how to survive motherhood in a working woman’s world, and how to re-chart one’s life plan to map to what is more the dream it once was rather than the sentence it now feels.  Aurora Theatre’s flight in the Mud Blue Sky is smooth sailing and totally worth the price of the ticket.

Rating: 4 E’s

Mud Blue Sky continues on the main stage of Aurora Theatre through September 27, 2015.  Tickets are available online at or by calling 510-843-4822.

Photo by David Allen

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