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Theater Wed Apr 23 2014

Mud Blue Sky at Red Orchid Shows Why the Skies Are Not so Friendly

Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Loneliness, regrets, friendship, humor, and a little maternal instinct season A Red Orchid Theatre's new play, Mud Blue Sky. Director Shade Murray gets the most out of Marisa Wegrzyn's fine script, which revolves around airport life.

The tiny Red Orchid space on Wells Street is perfect for the claustrophobic story of three very mature flight attendant friends on a layover at a hotel near O'Hare. Beth (Natalie West) and Sam (Mierka Girten) are still flying ("the taxi's coming at 5:30 tomorrow morning"). Angie (Kirsten Fitzgerald) lost her job recently and now lives in a Chicago suburb.

As the play opens, Beth arrives in her room exhausted and suffering from back pain; she can't wait to change clothes and relax. Sam wants to hit a bar and meet their friend Angie. But Beth declines and we find out why when she leaves to meet her young friend Jonathan (Matt Farabee) to buy a joint. Matt, in a rented tuxedo, is not having a good prom night; his date ditched him. Beth is his regular customer, and, it turns out, was his first sale, when they met at the Denver airport. Jonathan was carrying pot in his underwear and Beth saved him from being discovered by the TSA drug dog. That led him to start selling pot at school, and, all of a sudden, he says, "I was cool."

Beth owes him money from previous sales and despite that issue, they seem to have a personal connection. In this scene and later, Beth shows a maternal concern for Jonathan, whose mother was killed in a car accident recently. He's been accepted at Cal Tech but isn't sure he'll go.

Beth and Sam make it clear that the flight attendant role has lost the glamor of early years. Rude passengers, disgusting messes in the lavatory, and seatback pocket discoveries ("don't ever put your hand in a seatback pocket"). And then there's the indignity of having to walk backwards behind the beverage cart. (Somehow, I never realized that was a problem. I'll be more sympathetic to flight attendants in the future.) And they debate the various nuances of leaving their jobs, which they desperately want to do: Quitting, stopping or retiring are not the same.

Angie, on the other hand, who now stays home and cares for her mother, misses the flying life. She mourns softly about how she loved staying in hotels. "I always slept like a baby ... there's something about the sameness, the blandness. And always knowing what was on TV on what channel in what city."

Sam buys a joint from Jonathan too and demands he accompany her to her hotel room to get his money. Although Sam has a son about Jonathan's age, Beth seems concerned about Sam's intentions. (Describing her son, Sam says, "TJ mutated into a brooding, hunchbacked boy-man.")

All four actors give strong, very believable performances. West is quirky and burned out from decades of flying. Girten's Sam is flashy and sexy as she was last year in Red Orchid's Simpatico. Fitzgerald, the company's artistic director, brings warmth and humor to Angie's character. And Farabee has just the right amount of teenage awkwardness and sensitivity to generate maternal concern from the three women twice or thrice his age.

The very bland hotel room setting, designed by Jacqueline Penrod, is supported by Mike Durst's lighting, which smoothly shifts the setting to outside the hotel room as needed. Brando Triantafillou provided the original music and sound design.

Marisa Wegrzyn is a Chicago-based playwright. This is her second play to be produced by A Red Orchid Theatre after The Butcher of Baraboo in 2012. Wegrzyn has won several awards, including the 2009 Wasserstein Award for her play Hickorydickory. Her Wikipedia biography notes that her mother is a former flight attendant, which might have provided some of the raw material for Mud Blue Sky.

Mud Blue Sky, 90 minutes with no intermission, continues at A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells St., until May 25. Performances are at 8pm Thursday-Saturday and 3pm Sunday. Tickets are available online for $25-30. For more information, call 312-943-8722.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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