When it comes to commercial flying, the stuff in the seat pockets can be as off-putting as an uninvited pat on a passenger’s butt. One of the attendants in Marisa Wegrzyn’s Mud Blue Sky found a soiled diaper in one of ’em, and that may have been the last straw amid a bellyful of last straws, like clueless, bitchy passengers and vapid co-workers. Now flirting with her 50s, Beth’s thinking about retirement, crappy pension and all, and starting a craft beer business; and while that’s pretty cool, she’s not exactly anybody’s idea of a manager type. For that matter, neither are her strange bedfellows – the attendants and the teen drug dealer she meets up with for a poor (wo)man’s reunion in a business hotel near O’Hare.
It’s not impossible to rationalize the climax in this current MOXIE Theatre offering, but it’s not always very easy, either. As belly-laugh humor and inside-industry stories go, this is a very funny piece, with Wegrzyn serving up cute lines about dogs in Halloween costumes and packaged appearances (“You can tell she was a gymnast before the implants”). And there’s a certain reassurance in the glimpse of truth about the flight game – for all their perkiness and glad-handing, attendants are scraping by like the rest of us, with their own set of stories that cast them as the human beings they are.
But Wegrzyn keeps the party rolling as one 90-minute bitch-fest, neither leading it to anything meaningful (the way she sometimes seems to want to) nor capitalizing on the development of more than one role to help lead the fray.
If deadpan humor and stream-of-consciousness comedy are your things, then by all means, this is your play. Just be aware that the ending, as uplifting as it might try to be, doesn’t always justify the means.
Jonathan, his prom date and the joys of pot
Beth, fellow attendant Sam and former co-worker Angie (the airline fired her amid her weight issues) will make a night of it at the hotel, whose fixtures are marked by the usual signs of prior occupancy (there’s something icky on the remote, and the pea-green picture above the bed is the worst in the history of pictures and beds). Beth has a – uh – nodding acquaintance with 17-year-old Jonathan, who winds up at the party by default; he’s Beth’s sometimes pot dealer, and on this night, still in his tux, he’s been dumped by his prom date.
So begins the revelry, with a $200 bottle of cognac, a pithy round of ear-licking, a couple bouts of TV porn and a fresh customer for Jonathan. Wegrzyn wisely avoids the obvious temptation to draw anything like a foursome, although the virginal Jonathan, adrift about college plans and his date’s disappearance, would make an obvious centerpiece amid three frustrated women old enough to be his mom.
But in the end, all four principals tangentially or directly reach what amount to hopeful outlooks for the lives they’ve just trashed on for 90 minutes. Wegrzyn leaves us no explanation for the sudden change of heart, any more than she capitalizes on Jonathan’s potential as an unlikely bellwether. The shift in mood isn’t well-explained, diminishing some of the effect of the wry, deadpan humor that came before.
There’s a good ensemble mix here, with Wegrzyn’s nice sense of cadence fueling the characters’ believability. DeAnna Driscoll’s funny Beth could just as easily have joined a plumber’s union; for all her talk, Jo Anne Glover’s Sam can’t quite free her aching spirit; J. Tyler Jones’ hangdog Jonathan is underused but physically quite effective; and Melissa Fernandes’ Angie is palpably sick at heart amid her considerable sweetness. There’s a lot to read here, and Wegrzyn’s good mechanics help us accordingly.
Jennifer Thorn lives by her wits
So does Maria Bane’s scene design; her one-note hotel room looks like any other in the solar system, and that’s apparently what she wanted. Sherrice Kelly’s lights are fine, although they could have stood a touch more mutedness in the scenes outdoors. The rest of the tech is fine, nicely appointing Bane’s vision for the nondescript space.
Director Jennifer Eve Thorn lives by her wits rather than by concepts, and this is accordingly her kind of play. She’s got a funny script and a good cast, but in the end, we’re wondering not just who’s driving the bus in the story but why. Those planes circling O’Hare need pilots to stay airborne – amid Wegrzyn’s weird conclusion, one airliner disappears from the radar as it prepares to land. I recommend the play, but not with any particular enthusiasm.
This review is based on the opening-night performance of May 10. Mud Blue Sky runs through June 8 at MOXIE Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd. in the Rolando area. $27, group rates available. 858-598-7620, moxietheatre.com.