a mental state: (l-r) McLain and Asprey in Blue/Orange.
Joe Penhall, directed by Timothy Douglas
Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, Mass., through Sept. 2
The most intriguing twist of the theatrical summer season
occurs when the trio of actors who create screwball merriment
in Shakespeare & Company’s production of Rough Crossing
create laughs that cut in Blue/Orange. Such twists
highlight the troupe’s uniqueness; audiences can see actors
stretch themselves creating and developing different characters
in different productions in a season, not just create a character
for a dozen performances. The trio of Malcolm Ingram, LeRoy
McLain, and Jason Asprey move from the rolling farce of Rough
Crossing to the exploration of race, class, and mental
illness in Blue/Orange, sometimes within the same day.
It’s that eclectic mix of plays that mark Shakespeare &
Company’s excellence both in education and entertainment.
And Blue/Orange does both: educate and entertain. A
hit from the 2000 London season with the phenomenal cast of
Bill Nighy, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Andrew Lincoln, Blue/Orange
focuses on the shifting relationships between mental patient
Chris (McLain, the steward from Rough Crossing), his
attending psychiatrist-in-training Bruce (Asprey, the veggie-chomping
playwright from Rough Crossing), and attending guru-in-charge
Dr. Robert Smith (Ingram, the ember of a Lothario from Rough
Crossing). Chris is excited as he prepares for his exit
interview with Bruce on the last day of a “Sectioned with
a 136” sentence, a term the program helpfully explains is
a means for the police to have someone who is visibly mentally
disturbed in a public space locked up for 28 days of psychiatric
evaluation. That Chris is a 20- something black man living
in an impoverished area of London, ironically named White
City Estate (it’s an actual place), lies at the heart of being
“Sectioned with a 136.”
Bruce evaluates the energetic, almost manic, Chris as if he
were training a 6-year-old, or a chimpanzee. His condescending
attitude, his attempts at connecting with Chris—their chat
about drugs is funny and damning—and his inept fawning over
Dr. Smith mark him as a man doomed to a fall.
Dr. Smith wears his authority well. That his diagnosis immediately
differs from Bruce’s—Smith wants to release Chris as scheduled
to free up a bed, Bruce wants to keep him confined indefinitely
as Bruce finds Chris dangerous—begins the shifting of status.
Smith is a man accustomed to wearing his power in an avuncular
manner; his chummy authority masks the readiness to sacrifice
anyone to maintain the positions he desires.
Chris bobs and weaves, struts and sulks, but he’s always aware
of the dynamics between head doctor and trainee, and observes
their behavior with trenchant insights worthy of a psychiatrist
or chief detective. Observation is at the heart of all manipulation.
That Chris believes his father is former Ugandan dictator
Idi Amin (playwright Joe Penhall also wrote the screenplay
for The Last King of Scotland, the Oscar- winning film
about a doctor’s relationship with Amin), and that the oranges
in a bowl on the table in the consulting room are blue, alarms
Bruce; Bruce is even more disturbed by Smith’s readily explaining
away Chris’ beliefs with jargon. “My semantics are better
than yours, so I win,” Smith states calmly. “You can’t afford
to not follow my advice,” the doctor states, summing up the
authority behind every institution since the beginning of
Director Timothy Douglas engenders engaging performances here,
and has staged Blue/Orange with crisp zestiness. Tony
Cisek’s set design is institutionally bright, clean, and inhuman;
the all important oranges seem to pop with color under the
overhanging office lighting. Douglas has his trio of actors
inhabiting the same space but reacting believably according
to their shifting status; while occasionally the Pinter-esque
pauses or Mamet-like interruptions in Penhall’s play lapse
into a performance of memorized dialogue and rehearsed stage
directions, McLain’s Chris is always connected to the moment
and responsive to the second; his Chris is a man trapped,
gnawing his way to freedom. Whom he has to gnaw through is
the fault of various institutions, but the gnawing is an act
of sanity; he’s not just another angry black man. Blue/Orange
reminded of Shakespeare & Company’s excellent The
Fly-Bottle from 2003: an intelligent, challenging play
that creates as much laughter as thought.
by Daniel Goldfarb, music and lyrics by David Kirshenbaum,
directed by Christopher Ashley
Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, Mass., through
Jack (a Jew) and Kate (a gentIle) interrupt their wedding
when Kate suddenly feels that they should fly from New York
City to Rio de Janeiro so that she can meet his father, Wood,
who left Jack’s mother, Liberty, and fled to Brazil where
he married a young beauty named Volere. In Rio, Volere sings
“The Party Come Here,” which I couldn’t hear above the din
of the three-piece orchestra even though the singers were
miked. It could be that I missed the linchpin of the play,
but somehow I doubt it
Matters get increasingly bizarre when Jack meets Orlando,
a 499-year-old Marrano Jew hiding in a cave from the prejudice
that must exist in Brazil, a largely Catholic country.
Orlando serenades Jack with the memorable “You’re a Jew.”
Kate gets randy with Wood, prompting Volere to phone Liberty,
who is always being snowed upon, even in Rio.
Jack and Orlando bond because they are both hiding from the
world, and they sing a duet about anti- Semitism, “Everybody
Hates” (a Jew), a humorous historical ditty about various
genocides of Jews beginning with Egypt. When they get to the
Holocaust, they guess maybe it isn’t such a good idea to continue.
Without the conviction of black humor to sustain it, the jokey
song dies, and points to the soullessness that pervades this
The characters are unbelievable despite the best efforts of
a talented cast headed by Hunter Foster, who brings a strong
voice and spontaneity to Jack. Kate Reinders wisely plays
it straight as Kate; her physical presence is stressed in
David C. Woolard’s scant costumes (she is forced to spend
most of the play in various stages of undress), and it must
be noted that she has a powerful sexual presence.
So too does Chaunteé Schuler, as Volere, who probably could
land a job at Rio’s Plataforma 1, a famous tourist attraction
that features some of the most beautiful women in Rio dancing
the Samba in various states of undress.
Should either of these women fail to distract one from the
musical’s deficiencies, there are also the curves of Sarah
Turner and the sensuality of the statuesque Kate Roberts.
Both showed their acting chops in the WTF’s Free Theatre,
Wing It. Here they show considerably more as exotic
dancers dressed in colorful plumage.
If you enjoy beautiful women displaying their natural gifts,
these four women are the best parts of the show. Courtesy
of them, there is always a sense of sexuality on stage, and
this is one thing that the production gets right about Rio—the
constant parade of feminine beauty and sexual allure that
pervades the entire city from Copacabana to the famous clubs
that never seem to close. And it is this atmosphere of sex
and sensuality that the show depends on to justify the sudden
urges of Kate and, to a lesser degree, the loosening of Jack.
It’s the old Blame it on Rio excuse.
Malcolm Gets is saddled with the co- starring role of Orlando,
a character who needs definition and better motivation.
David Kirshenbaum has written some decent music and supplies
enough clever lyrics to lend the show its few laughs. However,
tunes get repetitive and acquire a dull sameness. Sensing
the failures of Daniel Goldfarb’s book and the limitations
of the music, savvy Christopher Ashley directs at a brisk
The party ends with an example of deus ex machina that would
offend Aristotle, Jesus and any self-respecting Carioca. It’s
as if Goldfarb and Kirshenbaum imbibed too many Caipirinhas
while writing this arbitrary, inconsistent and incoherent
musical. A few glasses of Brazil’s most famous cocktail can
make you dizzy to the point of hallucinating. The program
to the play thoughtfully includes the recipe. Theatergoers
would be advised, however, to down a few before going to the