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A CurtainUp Review
Blue Alaska
David Lohrey
Don't do it, Blue. We'll get to Alaska some other way.
---Lydia
Playwright Wilhelm has crafted a deceptively simple story of frustrated dreams. The play opens on what would seem to be familiar enough territory. It's Sam Shepard-land, where two low-class drifters, a newly married couple, have taken up residence in a tacky apartment in what we imagine to be the grubby side of town somewhere in Florida by way of Missouri on the way to Alaska.

Barely articulate, our young, horny couple hasn't got much to say, besides some sort of request to help each other out of each other's clothes, and quick. They're in love, been traveling for two days straight, and are dying to try out their new bed.

The opening scene of this fast-paced play would quickly move into some form of pornography were it not for the playwright's introduction of two brilliantly conceived character parts who intrude on the honeymooner's plans. The first, Nadine (Wende O'Reilly) disrupts the proceedings in the first act, while the arrival of the Man (Philip Galbraith) in the second helps postpone the couple's coupling until the final curtain.

Blue (Jesse Shafer) and Lydia (Kirsten Walsh) seem to have things well in hand. Between kisses, they manage some words, chiefly devoted to their shared dream of finding a better life. Neither has had what we normally think of as a happy life, although both are filled with quick intelligent, good humor, and what would seem to be a resolve to stay out of trouble. All they have to do now is find a job, decorate their new apartment and see how long they can stand living in Florida.

The actors succeed beyond the audience's wildest dreams in sustaining their initial electrifying physical rapport. As directed by Gregg David Shore, the couple stayed glued to each other as they figure out how to break in their new bed while maintaining privacy without the benefit of window coverings.

Enter Nadine, their nosey next-door neighbor. Nadine'll be happy to give away some free fabric and lend her sewing machine, all Blue and Lydia have to do is make this lunatic feel at home while she runs her mouth at a mile a minute. In a brilliant comic turn, Ms O'Reilly presents this character as a kind of mad Southern Edith Bunker on speed. The audience can't believe their ears upon first hearing Nadine, but she tops herself in her second entrance leaving the audience unable to believe its eyes. Done up in full Nashville country splendor, she now looks a cross between a New Orleans whore and one of Senator Lott's poorer relations. By the time she exits -she's off to the local bar to sing -- audience members are crying through their tears of joy.

. The second act is enriched by the arrival of an elderly gent, the local high school teacher, who hooked up with Blue at a gay bar. For $500 Blue has promised the Man the time of his life. Lydia has hidden herself in the kitchen while the men make themselves comfortable. She has promised to go along with this as a way of securing transit to Alaska if all else fails in Florida, or so she says. We don't want to spoil the fun, so we'll end the plot summary here. Suffice to say, the scene is made achingly painful, suspenseful, and hilarious by the brilliant performances of all concerned.

Galbraith is a revelation of calm in the face of mounting humiliation. Shafer is dazzling as the experienced hustler, while Lydia is at times frightening as the betrayed wife. When things really get out of hand, Lydia comes unglued, in one of the few scenes of staged hysteria I have ever seen.

The set, the costumes, the direction could not be improved upon. The action is non-stop, the acting always pitch-perfect. Philip Galbraith and Wende O'Reilly in their supporting roles create vivid, memorable portraits. The leads, Jesse Shafer and Kirsten Walsh, make the improbable compellingly believable. Le Wilhelm's new play persuades us once again that in dreams begins responsibility.

BLUE ALASKA
Written by Le Wilhelm.
Director: Gregg David Shore.

Cast: Kirsten Walsh, Jesse Shafer, Wende O'Reilly, Philip Galbraith..
Scenic Design: Viola Bradford.
Lighting Design: Veronica.
Costume Design: Beverly Bullock.
Running Time: 2 Hours with one 15-minute intermission
Creative Place Theatre, 750 Eighth Avenue, Suite 602, NY. 212/ 769-7973 ex. 2.
Opens 03/09/03-03/30/23. Call for schedule.
Reviewed by David Lohrey based on performance of 03/16/03.

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