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A CurtainUp Review
Under the Blue Sky
By a href="hitchcock.html"> Laura Hitchcock
ç An overhang of blue glass panes thrust out above the Geffen Theatre's stage simulates the blue sky of the title but why it draws attention to a meaningless title remains a mystery. David Eldridge's award-winning play follows three couples, high school teachers all, as they fumble their way towards how they feel about relationships and teaching.
Eldridge has a gift for sharp scathing dialogue, realistic concerns and a flair for drama. His characters circle around their expiring truths like vultures. Eldridge places them chronologically both in time and age in what are essentially three one-act plays, each spaced a year after the first one. The lives of the first four characters are wrapped up in the last play.
The first depicts two young teachers at a low-income school in London's East End. Nick (McCaleb Burnett) is tired of doing crowd control and wants to teach. He's accepted a job in a posh private school, much to the dismay of his colleague Helen (Margaret Welsh) who slept with him once three years ago and is dying to do it again. She uses the ploy that the kids need him but Nick insists it isn't his duty to be unhappy and we're not quite sure how he means it.
The second play is a sexual sizzler in which Michelle (Sharon Lawrence) unlooses a bitter diatribe about her many affairs on nerdy Graham (Willie Garson, who plays a similar character, Stanford, on Sex and the City). Turns out Nick has dumped her that morning and she wants revenge by seducing Graham, the dregs of the Common room. The two enact a fantasy in which they play Soldier and Nurse during World War II in a porn version of Farewell to Arms. The worm manages to turn at the end though not in a very original way.
All the warmth and charm is saved for the third play, as though these elements and knowing what one wants are rewards of the mellow years. Anne (Judy Geeson) announces she doesn't think she ought to take any more chaste spring break vacations with her much-younger colleague Robert (John Carroll Lynch). She's committed to taking her elderly Aunt May to the military cemetery where May's beloved Arthur lies. May declared Arthur was the love of her life but Anne believes that was a fantasy to get them through the War. She uses this anecdote as a parallel to her matey relationship with Robert. Although they've been best friends for years, she feels he ought to get married and have a family. Robert convinces her she doesn't know what he wants and, in the process, finds out himself.
Director Gilbert Cates finds the humanity in his sextet. Burnett emanates the authority of a strong young teacher and the hunky smile that makes him the object of crushes by both students and teachers. Sharon Lawrence, with a devastating silent laugh, makes more of Eldridge's litany of lovers than the playwright has given her. Geeson and Lynch, by the end of their play, demonstrate the timing that exists between two people who have been on each other's wavelength for a very long time. Welsh demonstrates both why Nick finds her his best friend and why he wants a break. Garson finds a poignant dignity somewhere among the shreds and tatters of Graham's character.
Tom Buderwitz designed three sets, each of which reflects the character of its denizens. Daniel Ionazzi follows him with appropriate lighting that ignores that blue sky.
Editor's Note: I saw this play this past summer at the Williamstown Theatre Festival with a different cast, director and design crew. It was a showcase at the small stage with no reviews permitted, though the production featured a seasoned troupe of actors -- with Marcia Mason especially endearing in what I agree was the most endearing of the connected episodes. Laura would have seen no puzzling sky-simulating glass panes. -- es
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