Theater review: Blue Window at Attic Salt Theatre Arts Space
There’s a reason so many plays feature parties. Beneath the facade of food, drinks, and small talk is a veritable social Petri dish. Relationships are put to the test, true characters are revealed, and the audience cannot help but be mesmerized by the raw spectacle of human nature.
Blue Window, the fascinating little play currently running at Attic Salt Theatre Company, is a fine addition to this tradition of party plays. Propelled by a sterling cast and guided by the precise hand of director Jeff Catanese, Blue Window is a darkly funny and sometimes heartbreaking portal — alright, window — into what makes human beings tick.
Blue Window is a 1984 play written by Craig Lucas, of Light in the Piazza and Prelude to a Kiss fame. The first set of scenes are before the party, the second scene is the party itself, and the third set of scenes are after the party. Interestingly, the script heavily features simultaneous action; the first set of scenes occur in five homes all at once, and the third set in four.
This technique can sometimes be distracting, but at other times it creates interesting juxtapositions, as when Libby (Trinity Smith-Keel) says all the party guests “seemed nice” while Tom (Edwin Glass) is badmouthing her in his home at the same time. Or when three pairs of characters are having arguments with their respective partners, and all three say, “I’m sorry!” in unison. Be ready to swing your head like you’re at a tennis match.
The script isn’t always clear about certain plot points (how does this person know that person, again?) and until the third set of scenes, the story languishes at times in favor of blue sky musings about folk music and the corpus callosum. But what the play lacks in narrative momentum it makes up for with undyingly engaging performances. Ultimately, this is a play about characters and relationships, and Catanese has assembled a properly powerhouse cast that delivers.
As the hostess of the all-important party and the locus around which the rest of the characters gather, Smith-Keel’s Libby ranges from comically neurotic to heartbreakingly vulnerable, and in the end serves as the critical emotional heart of the whole piece. She is joined in this pivotal responsibility by Norbert (Henry Williamson III), who, although he isn’t given much dialogue in the script, powerfully expresses his inner life physically.
Libby’s ambiguously heterosexual best friend Griever (Scott Keel) is equally dexterous at portraying a whole gamut of emotional states, from dandy joie de vivre to coal-black resentment. His best moments come near the end of the play when he, like Norbert, says very little but conveys a lot with his face and body.
Along with Tom, the flashiest character is probably Boo (Josephine Thomas), a youngish therapist who pouts and pontificates and wears leg warmers. (Catanese does a good job of not hitting you over the head with “The ‘80s,” but it is still the ‘80s, after all.) Thomas delivers a wonderfully grounded performance as a decidedly ungrounded character. There is not a single breath or twitch that is not right on the money.
Likewise, Christy Montesdeoca is delicious as Boo’s girlfriend Alice, a narcissistic writer who likes to spout out theories on things she knows nothing about and who thirstily drinks in the praise of those around her, especially Libby. All of this ego, of course, masks deep insecurity, which Montesdeoca allows to peek through in the final third of the play.
Tom is a tightly wound composer who subtly controls his girlfriend Emily (Amanda Klinikowski) in a manner that hints at a deeper, darker dynamic. It is to Glass’ credit that he is able to express this sleeping monster without being cartoonish.
For her part, Klinikowski is a wonder to behold on stage, delivering a thoroughly engaging performance that is both natural and otherworldly. She has the difficult task of belting a strange, full-throated musical number smack dab in the middle of a show that is not a musical. Not only does she have killer singing chops, but she manages to make this weird dramatic choice seem almost like it fits in with the rest of the show — no easy task.
Across the board, the cast brings depth and energy to a script that oftentimes needs a shot of both.
This production of Blue Window is Attic Salt’s first mainstage show in its loft space on Riverside Drive. Up until now, it has been used only for rehearsals and storage, but Catanese and his Attic Salt co-founder Marci Bernstein are now converting this space into a proper theater.
It’s not quite there yet — only a small handful of lights hanging at odd angles illuminate the playing space, which is both narrow and cavernously tall. But the staging is smart, and despite the abundance of simultaneous locations, the blocking makes the delineation of settings fairly clear. Costumes by McKinney Gough are a delight — they suit each character as well as the period without being an ‘80s-themed costume party.
The title of Blue Window alludes to that glimpse of sky one sees out of an open airplane door: The wide world — scary but exhilarating, a blank slate teeming with possibility. And yet, for me, the play is actually about how much people limit themselves by becoming trapped in abusive relationships, unrequited love, grief, ego, and insecurity. Any of these exquisitely portrayed characters could free themselves any time they choose — they just have to take that first, terrifying step.
Blue Window runs Dec. 6-16, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. For tickets, visit atticsalt.org.
(Photos courtesy of Attic Salt Theatre Company)