Blue Before Morning
nytheatre.com review by Amber Gallery
October 23, 2008
The experience of Kate McGovern's Blue Before Morning, in the skilled hands of director Gia Forakis, can best be described as the highest quality of naturalism "neat" with just a splash of expressionism. The perfect blend of these two elements creates a work that is both moving in the way only the purest form of "realistic theatre" can be and innovative in style.
Jerry is a lonely but big-hearted New York City cab driver who picks up a willful 19-year-old girl named Ava. Ava is desperate to catch a late night bus to South Carolina for what seems to be a family emergency. After missing her bus, Ava convinces Jerry to drive her the 12 hours. Shortly into the journey, at the end of the New Jersey Turnpike, they pick up a hitchhiker—a very pregnant woman named Ella who is running from her boyfriend. Ella is far from the pinnacle of class, only quieting her filthy mouth long enough to puff on a cigarette. What follows is a road trip and a life-changing night for all three.
While this may already sound like the formula for an engaging night of theatre, McGovern goes the extra mile and layers in the back story of each character with flashback sequences. As Ava, Ella, and Jerry share their stories with each other in the present time, or simply get lost in their own thoughts during quiet spells in the car, the events in each character's past are played out for us on stage. Each relives time with the people most instrumental in bringing them to this fateful cab ride. For Jerry, it is his wife Rita; for Eva, her estranged mother; and for Ella, it is Steve, the father of the baby she is carrying.
Heavily coincidental parallels exist among these three characters' lives, but because their stories are so bleak, this is a welcome and perfect bit of magic. McGovern's writing is superb. The dialogue is conversational, painfully real, and often funny. The element of fate is never overstated or forced.
Forakis's keen direction moves the timeline along in a way that never pulls focus from the story or from our growing affection for the characters. The upstage wall (imaginatively built with dozens of gray suitcases) serves as a screen for video scenery indicating changing locale—complete with a huge digital clock ticking off the hours, minutes, and seconds of the night. What makes this work is that this projection screen is only utilized during transitions, never while the scenes are being played out. Aside from the wall and the car interior, the stage is blank and all set pieces are muted in color, placing all the focus on the actors and their relationships.
All six actors do a fantastic job in breathing life into the writing. Kether Donohue nails the resentful daughter that Ava has become to cover her hurt and vulnerability. Jenny Maguire is sometimes over the top as the crass Ella, but still has plenty of truthful moments and manages to have the audience in stitches. Jennifer Dorr White does well at capturing the emotion of Eileen, Ava's mother. Flaco Navaja delivers the most real performance of the night as Steve, without a false moment to be had. Chris McKinney's wonderful acting inspires tears and laughter within seconds of each other in his skilled portrayal of Jerry. And Phyllis Johnson brings a beautiful presence and emotion to Rita, Jerry's wife.
Katie Down's original music sets the perfect tone for the show. Her few sound effects, such as car doors and rain, are subtle and not distracting from the action at all. And Bruce Steinberg's lights are effectively moody and stylized in all the right places. S. Katy Tucker's videos are appropriately placed and well-filmed.