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Marin Hinkle and Neal Huff in Blue Window
(Photo: Carl Sturmer)
Blue windows are everywhere in this revival of Craig Lucas' 1984 play--as metaphor, as plot, and as scenery. This last manifestation, the most obvious, is a bold blue rectangle that looms behind the living room setting of a New York City apartment in which a handful of people spend one Sunday night.

The play is broken into three sections. It opens on these New Yorkers wandering, rushing, working, and lounging in the apartment--at the window, on the sofa, in a chair, etc.--in bursts of sound and energy that separate them spatially. It's quickly understood, thanks to Julia Gibson's smooth direction and Robert Kaplowitz's original music, that the characters are not all in the same apartment. But they will be soon.

Libby (Marin Hinkle), a charmingly manic and insecure woman, is busily preparing to host an evening get-together of friends and acquaintances. There is the writer Alice (Hope Chernov), whom Libby admires and hopes to impress, and Alice's lover, Boo (Marcia DeBonis); Libby's sky-diving instructor, Norbert (Jason Kolotouros); Tom (Josh Stamberg), a musician, and his quiet girlfriend Emily (Katy Hansz); and Libby's good friend Griever (Neal Huff), whom she calls every five seconds for moral support as she prepares punch and hors d'oeuvres for her little soiree. As Griever grooms and Libby worries, the guests-to-be do their own thing: Norbert assembles a puzzle, Tom struggles to write a song on his guitar, and Boo learns Italian from a foreign language instruction tape. But just as everyone is getting ready for the party, something happens that creates an embarrassing problem for poor Libby, adding to her insecurity once the guests arrive. (I won't say what the source of her embarrassment is, but suffice to say that it keeps Libby in the background for most of her own party.)

The party itself is the centerpiece of Blue Window, and it's here that Lucas' gift for reflecting real life onstage shines. Naturally, he has assembled a group of conflicting personalities for this party (what fun would it be otherwise?) but he never exploits their differences in obvious ways. When things get quiet or awkward, the guests try to make the best of it. Griever frequently makes terrible jokes, but the other guests humor him; Alice's pretensions are indulged by everyone (with the exception of Boo); when Tom plays avant garde composer Cecil Tyson's music on the stereo and comments adoringly about it, the others don't mock him but instead turn to another topic of conversation. Libby, Tom, and Emily are quiet most of the time, only speaking when called upon. In other words, it's a lot like a real dinner party of friends and acquaintances.

Lucas' characters are delicately drawn; he forces nothing from them, allowing them to reveal themselves when and how they will. Even Emily's very unconventional way of expressing herself in a plaintive, compelling song that breaks the action feels somehow perfectly natural. It helps to have on hand this excellent ensemble, most of whom play their characters with the sort of nuance and sensitivity that makes you wonder at times if what's happening onstage is even scripted; many lines are delivered with the inexactness, breathlessness, and utter conviction of live conversation, while the less voluble guests do equally well with body language and facial expressions. (DeBonis, who is punch-drunk much of the time, and Kolotouros are especially good at these things.) And Lucas allows the characters to touch upon topics--some mundane, others a sort of intellectual party-fodder--that practically invite the viewer to put his or her two cents in.

And then it's over. It's not until everyone is back in their own apartments again that little personal dramas which were barely alluded to at the party begin to play themselves out. Not that they ever quite do that: Boo erupts in anger at Alice's intellectualism but, even as they make up, there's no reason to believe anything will change between the two. Griever's name turns out to be prophetic as his affability and good humor melt into pathetic tears. Tom finally works out his song, but his relationship with Emily is unresolved. As for Libby, she has a secret that she reveals to Norbert, the last lingering guest who, in more than one way, could be the man to help her overcome her painful past.

The play is not completely satisfying. Though Lucas takes pains to explain his various blue windows, the theme never quite lands. Blue Window is nonetheless a very entertaining and insightful slice of urban life. A silly little party is made rich by characters worth listening to and watching. I'm still sort of wondering about them and what happens next in their lives. There's a lot to be said for a playwright who can write characters so real and actors who can make you think about their existence beyond the play.

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