Under the Blue Sky
nytheatre.com review by Chris Harcum
May 20, 2011
"Let's just be friends" can be the worst four words a high school student can have said to them. In David Eldridge's play Under the Blue Sky, they can also be devastating to the adults who teach that age group. Told in three two-person vignettes, a cycle of relationships ending and building is revealed. Awkward and bad attempts at love seem to be occupational hazards to the six school teachers in the world of this play. While each mini-play could stand on its own, the love-never-gets-easier themes amplify when all three are played without interruption.
The first has Nick, played by Stuart Williams, telling Helen, played by Sarah Manton, he wishes to leave his current teaching job where he spends more time dealing with poorly behaved students than actually teaching. To make matters worse, there was a bomb that exploded hard enough to make his East London apartment shake. Helen knows how tough the students can be since she had a knife pulled on her at school, but she feels things are improving as the kids now wear uniforms and she does not want him to leave. When he admits he does not feel capable of loving her, Helen pulls a knife on him. This scene ends uneasy and not totally resolved.
Fifteen months after the first scene, Graham and Michelle, played by Jonathan Tindle and Elizabeth Jasicki, burst into Graham's bedroom after a night of heavy drinking, awkward dancing, and Chinese food. Some role-play is abruptly brought to an end when Graham's over-excitement gets beyond his control and forces this unlikely couple to converse rather than be physical. Layers of warped behavior are exposed by both characters through a string of confessions. Graham has been in love with Michelle and following her around while she has acted out with multiple partners and little discretion. Turns out, Michelle has been recently jilted by Nick who has gone back to Helen. Michelle lets flow a string of stories about ex-lovers. Graham and Michelle find temporary solace in one another through their self-loathing.
The third scene starts another fifteen months later when Anne and Robert, played by Christine Rendel and Richard Hollis, spend a morning together after a party. They are good friends and have spent many holidays together. They have even shared rooms to save on the trips. But they have remained only friends, mostly because Anne is twenty years older than Robert and wouldn't entertain the idea. They discuss where to go on their next holiday, or if they should travel together at all, and dance the full-length of the song "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do." While it would be best for the first two couples to remain friends, I couldn't help but root for Anne and Robert to go beyond that.
Paula D'Alessandris's direction never gets sluggish or ponderous. This unforced atmosphere allows the strengths and weaknesses of the characters to be played fully by this fine ensemble that is excellent throughout. I genuinely appreciated the commitment by the director and the actors. Most of the actors have credits or training in England and that authenticity is quietly noticeable in this production.
The play will be liked by anyone who enjoys slice-of-life work that teeters between drama and comedy. I was frustrated at times when characters talked about events rather than experiencing them before my eyes, but life is full of moments like this. And those moments shape how we live. This is exemplified by Kristin Costa's set design, which has all three environments on stage the whole show. They fade when the action shifts location but they are always there.
You can chose to let it bother you or accept it and make the best of it.