By Marisa Wegrzyn
Directed by Shade Murray
At A Red Orchid Theatre, Chicago
Hilarious modern farce is fueled by fabulous acting to whip-smart dialogue
A Red Orchid is one of the finest storefront Equity theatres in Chicago. They bravely mount outstanding theatre in their intimate space on Wells Street in Old Town. Their latest triumph is Chicago playwright Marisa Wegrzyn’s finest play to date – Mud Blue Sky now playing at A Red Orchid Theatre.
What makes this comedy work so well is a combination of smart, often witty comic dialogue with four easily likable and empathetic characters that are played with such honesty that we enjoy their wackiness. The laughs keep coming from the two flight attendants on a layover in Chicago: Beth (the deadpan suffering Natalie West) who is nearing early retirement due to a chronic bad back. There is the bitchie, single mom who loves to party on lay-overs – Sam (Mierka Girten). They spot out the window a teenage boy smartly dress in a prom night tuxedo.
It turns out that the boy, Jonathan (the terrific Matt Farabee) is Beth’s pot dealer who is waiting for her in the hotel parking lot after being ditched by his date at the prom. Beth needs to have Jonathan come up to Room 208 at the Motel for his cash. He inadvertently becomes the main topic of Beth, Sam and now Angie (the droll Kirsten Fitzgerald) as the three old friends get together to party with Angie, their former coworker flight attendant.
With Beth trying to explain Jonathan as her weed source, with Sam’s sexual innuendos toward the shy kid, and Angie’s wonderment that the three middle aged women would somehow have an innocently naive teenage boy drinking and supplying them with grass in their room is the grist for a wonderful, compassionate and quit funny farce. The honesty of the performances combined with wacky little situations played with comic aplomb makes for a delightful laugh fest.
Besides, such unique characters that have common ties: loneliness and isolation and the need to connect with others fuels the humor. We see Beth worried about her immediate future; Sam gets frustrated with her 17 year old son; Angie misses the adventures of being a flight attendant. Jonathan is lonely, sexually frustrated and fearful of his future as he wrestles with going to Cal Tech or staying in Chicago with his alcoholic lonely father.
We commiserate with these folks as we laugh at their funny interactions because we empathize with their foibles. It is refreshing to see a work with such a collection of heartfelt characters played by three expert actresses as Natalie West, Mierka Girten and Kirsten Fitzgerald with a strongly honest performance by Matt Farabee as the lonely teen. Jackie Penrod’s motel set with a fringe parking lot space works well and Shade Murray’s nicely paced staging keeps the laughs flowing effectively.
Mud Blue Sky has the elements of a wonderful show: honest acting; spot-on comic dialogue and loads of heart and compassion. And, of course, more laughs than any other show now playing in Chicago. This show is easily one of the best shows of 2014 – it’s therapy for a cold rainy spring with all those laughs. Get to A Red Orchid for a treat.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: April 13, 2014