BLUE RIDGE - Atlantic Theater Company

You don’t have to be familiar with the dynamics of a half way house or the protocols of a Twelve Step program, but it helps to comprehend fully Abby Rosebrock’s , sometimes confusing, BLUE RIDGE. It’s the western hills of North Carolina and Alison, Rosebrock’s protagonist, has been court-ordered to Church-sponsored group living and mandatory work assignment after taking an ax to the car of her boyfriend, who happens to have been her boss, too. Alison’s dual issues - rage and men - inform the brittle relationships with three other residents - recovering addicts Cherie, Wade and Cole, who arrives from a psychiatric hospital, and the house’s co-founders, Grace and pastor Hern.

Alison’s anger, narcissism and intimidating intelligence suck all the energy out of room of group therapy. Her need to dominate and appropriate others' crisis leads her to make Cherie her new BFF. Cherie has some men issues of her own: is she just “confused” as she asserts or is she a lesbian as Wade declares? But when Alison reveals Cherie’s secret (and taboo) relationship with one of the men of the house (no spoiler here), the fallout takes Alison to a deeper bottom.

Stephen Gabis, dialect coach, succeeds developing dialects for actors that heighten the Appalachian white or African American nature of Rosebrock’s characters. It’s so effective though and Taibi Magar’s direction of the rapid-fire dialogue is so un-modulated that narrative key points get de-emphasized. In reading the script after seeing the performance, story elements are all there, but, as staged, character prevails rather than story. As Alison, Marin Ireland (last scene in Classic Stage Company’s misguided SUMMER AND SMOKE) is pitch-perfect as a woman whose rage overwhelms the pain that is burning her insides up. Peter Mark Kendall as psych-patient Cole paces his performance better than the rest, so that when he snaps, you can feel a poor soul breaking apart.

BLUE RIDGE captures aspects of residential recovery programs with remarkable verisimilitude: spiritual readings (Alison substitutes hers with a Carrie Underwood ballad), sex inventories, making amends, behavioral triggers, and, most effectively, that tender area where boundaries between propriety and honesty encroach on each other. BLUE RIDGE’s final scene is puzzling: Alison alludes to a childhood that might explain what makes her character tick, perhaps providing a clue to the play that lives someplace in BLUE RIDGE’s gut.

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