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Blue Ridge

Marin Ireland                                                                                           Photo Credit: Ahron R. Foster



Blue Ridge


                   By Ron Cohen


Alison, the central character in emerging playwright Abby Rosebrock’s heartfelt if somewhat muddled drama Blue Ridge, is a high school English teacher who can get really angry. How angry?  When the school principal who’s also her lover does her wrong (exactly how is never spelled out – maybe she’s just realized he’s taking advantage of her), Alison takes up an axe and wrecks his car.


This results in her being sentenced for six months to a church-sponsored halfway house, where her rage, now felt against all men in power, still simmers. In particular, the house’s pastor Hern makes her uncomfortable, as he occasionally touches her, no matter how casual or innocent those touches may be.


However, she does find some camaraderie in her recovering addict housemates. They include Wade, a guitar-strumming young man of color; the comely African-American woman Cherie, a former high school French teacher now aiming to do social work, and Cole, a rather withdrawn hunky fellow who joins the group after Alison’s arrival. They’re all watched over by the house’s sympathetic manager, Grace, who is also African-American. It’s with Cherie that Alison finds a soul-mate. 


The play, as the title suggests, takes place in the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, and the dialogue is awash in the slurred drawl of the area. There is some suggestion of an inbred racism,   but this is not the play’s main concern. Rather it seems to be an exploration of the need for human connection and how the tics and twists of our psyches can cause things to go awry.  This is what happens with Alison.


Marin Ireland and KRistolyn Lloyd

When she discovers that Hern, who has a well-known relationship with a church member, is also carrying on some sort of a thing sub rosa with Cherie. Alison, pushed by her feelings about men, steps in to tell Hern off. The results are not good. Alison loses Cherie’s friendship in an emotional blowup, and Alison’s anger turns on herself, first with a debasing attempt at an act of sex and finally in a furious physical display of self-hatred.  It all concludes on a sorrowful but ambivalent note. 


Chris Stack and Kristolyn Lloyd


The play, directed in a forthright naturalistic style by Taibi Magar, is studded with some lively exchanges, especially those taking place during Bible Study Wednesdays, where the readings and discussions do not necessarily have to come from the Good Book. Near Christmas time, Wade plucks out the non-Yule song ”Edelweiss” on his guitar, leading the group to exult in their feelings for the movie of The Sound of Music.


The cast impresses. Marin Ireland’s Alison is riveting, a network of stretched out nerves barely masked by a forced vivacity. It complements smartly the character’s predisposition to quote Blanche DuBois. Kristolyn Lloyd artfully exposes the vulnerability behind Cherie’s French teacher smarts, while Kyle Beltran makes an engaging Wade and Nicole Lewis exudes natural warmth as Grace. Peter Mark Kendall as Cole effectively suggests the complexities behind his oblique manner, as does Christ Stack’s Hern behind his poised exterior.


Nevertheless, Rosebrock’s elliptical writing can keep you from becoming totally involved with her characters. Their emotions pour forth affectingly and profusely, but the details of their backgrounds are scanty. There’s not enough to arouse the interest or empathy that would overcome – or at least distract from -- the sense of contrivance in the script’s plotting.  As noted, even the incident that put Alison in the half-way house is not well clarified, although she tells us she was inspired by the Carrie Underwood song “Before He Cheats.”


While the costumes by Sarah Laux reflect the rural atmosphere, the handsome looking set by Adam Riggs, with the proscenium enclosed in a techno-like frame that lights up between scenes, is also problematic. It looks a bit too sleek and bright to be convincing as a community room for a place housing recovering addicts. And when the vertical blinds that cover the back of the set open at the play’s finish to reveal a picturesque forest, it’s confusing as well as striking. The scene, we learn, is taking place in a classroom within the school where Alison taught.


Despite its missteps, Blue Ridge does demonstrate a playwriting skill with a particular knack for idiomatic dialogue and a feel for the predicaments of simply being human. Hopefully, it will be fostered with more dramaturgical finesse in future works.


Review posted January 2019

Off-Broadway play

Playing at the Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater

336 West 20th Street


Playing until January 27