Theater review by Raven Snook
Click on a #MeToo hashtag and you’ll find a litany of reasons why women are pissed off at the patriarchy. But what is this fury doing to the angry women themselves? That’s what Abby Rosebrock investigates in her new black comedy Blue Ridge, a nuanced portrait of a woman scorned. Marin Ireland, seething and sexy, plays high-school English teacher Alison, who—after taking an axe to the car of her principal and paramour—has been sentenced to spend six months in a church-run halfway house in her southern Appalachian hometown. While her peers try to conquer drugs and alcohol, Alison revels in her addiction to anger, because she believes it’s justified. She’s overeager to help others evolve, but she wants her own life back exactly where it was.
Blue Ridge is a devastating examination of how even smart, strong women can be deformed by a society that raises them to please—and how men who don’t fit in can be victims, too. Director Taibi Magar ably steers the show through various modes, from biting dark humor to emotional outbursts and quiet confessions. Although the script and the accents sometimes wander, Rosebrock beautifully fleshes out all the characters, who come from diverse ethnic, economic and spiritual backgrounds; they include Alison’s wisecracking pal (an empathetic Kyle Beltran), her unstable admirer (a raw Peter Mark Kendall) and her romantically vulnerable roommate (the lovable Kristolyn Lloyd).
Alison is so consumed by fury that, even when she’s right, her instinct is to manipulate and destroy—regardless of the collateral damage. But thanks to Ireland’s expertly modulated performance, you never turn on her; you just wish she’d find a way to start healing. Alison’s stagnancy may be frustrating to some, but perhaps that’s Blue Ridge’s point. The stages of rage take time, and many women are still on step one.
Atlantic Theater Company (Off Broadway). By Abby Rosebrock. Directed by Taibi Magar. With Marin Ireland. Running time: 2hrs 10mins. One intermission.