‘Mud Blue Sky’ at A Red Orchid: Stewardesses winging it with cute young drug dealer in a tux
By Lawrence B. Johnson
In the literal and best sense, Marisa Wegrzyn’s poignant comedy “Mud Blue Sky” at A Red Orchid Theatre is a four-star winner – one for each of the quartet of players in this close-knit and entertaining enterprise.
“Mud Blue Sky” is the second play by Wilmette native Wegrynz to be staged at A Red Orchid, following “The Butcher of Baraboo” in 2012. While the two works share Wegrynz’s wry, often dark sense of humor, “Mud Blue Sky” is more sharply drawn, taut and concise. And its comedy, though keen-edged, pervasive and often physical, never veers into the sitcom farce of “Butcher.” It’s the touching humanity of “Mud Blue Sky” that makes it so appealing and, ultimately, satisfying.
The play is set at a hotel near O’Hare International Airport where two airline stewardesses have just checked in at the end of a long day aloft. Joining them will be a former stewardess who’s also their longtime pal. And one other person: a high school senior alone and adrift on his prom night. He also turns out to be a handy vendor of marijuana.
The room – and a very Ramada-like room designer Jacqueline Penrod has fashioned – belongs to middle-aged Beth, who suffers from a bad back and is about ready to give up the high-altitude life. Her flight-mate Sam (presumably for Samantha) is maybe 15 years younger and always ready to party, though her barely responsible teenage son on his own back home is a constant worry. Their companion on the ground, Angie, shows up with a very good bottle of cognac and a room-quieting story.
As for the young man, Jonathan, he’s Beth’s source for medicinal grass, and her buddies love a good sale, too. Though he looks quite fetching in his prom tux (the women see James Bond in his demure aspect), he’s miserable. Bright – he’s been accepted at Cal Tech – and a talented sketch artist, but pretty much a lost puppy. One glimpse of this dejected yet clean-cut, vigorous-looking youth, and Sam gets a twinkle in her eye that Beth and Angie know only too well.
Where does all this go? Thanks in no small part to Shade Murray’s briskly paced and yet graceful direction, it goes to the heart, drawing gales of laughter along the way. You could say “Mud Blue Sky” is Beth’s story, and Natalie West gives her both a moral center and an aura of physical exhaustion that snag our empathy like grappling hooks. She moves with the cautious, tired body of one whose back is always on the brink of going out. At the same time, in her dry, droll manner, West is also insanely funny.
Her world-weary Beth has created her own set of principles to live by, even her own lexicon: In her book, for instance, quitting and stopping are not the same thing. She’s no quitter, but she might decide to stop doing something. The distinction is obvious, Beth says. You just do something until you don’t do it any more: You stop. See?
As the spunky Sam, Mierka Girten puts the pepper in this stew. Hers is a different brand of comedy: sly, with saucy double takes, a raised eyebrow and an “aha” smirk. And always that gleam in her eye. Girten’s Sam is a charmer whose instincts are still those of the wild thing she must have been in youth, before motherhood clipped her wings, grounded her essence, produced the kind of baggage that can’t be rolled aboard.
The late arrival is Angie (Kirsten Fitzgerald in a performance of benign sweetness), who misses the old camaraderie at 36,000 feet. Besides the good liquor, Angie brings a story she’s never shared with her friends. It’s actually about that bottle, and a dark truth about the human condition.
Which brings us to the kid and Matt Farabee’s endearing, steady portrait of the artist as class geek. You get some idea of this lad’s self-image when he explains to the women that he started selling drugs to gain respect. Now the hot girls go out with him, even if they dump him before the evening’s over.
Jonathan doesn’t have a very clear idea about what’s to become of him. His dad doesn’t want him to go to Cal Tech, for a desperate reason. Beth faces similar uncertainty as she contemplates retirement. They’re about to end their friendly business relationship, probably never to see each other again. But maybe, way beyond the jet stream, unseen stars are coming into alignment — for a sketch artist and a lady with her own lexicon.
- Performance location, dates and times: Details at TheatreinChicago.com