To Lydia and Blue (yes it's an odd name, but that's what his mama called him, Lydia is fond of saying), Alaska is where everything will be all right -- they will be able to put their pasts behind them, be homesteaders, and live a fine, fulfilling, happily married life. But first they're going to live a while in Florida, get their bearings, make some money, and begin married life in the furnished apartment Lydia's mother arranged for.
But things have wrong even before they get to the apartment, which only has a bed, and that provided by Lydia's brother. Fantasies die hard in Le Wilhelm's somewhat overwrought yet undernourished Blue Alaska, a play that's more character study than full drama, but it was Wilhelm's (and director Gregg David Shore's) great good fortune to have Kirsten Walsh on board as Lydia, giving a full-throated, sharply delineated portrayal of a loser whose dreams don't permit that L-word. Lydia's done some time in jail, but her survival instinct, combined with massive amounts of denial (and passion -- this is one lusty woman), were given a fierce presentation by Walsh that was so robust it was only slightly diminished when, as in Act 2, the play goes seriously awry.
Blue's own past is at first only hinted at, but soon it's revealed that his only moneymaking talent is prostitution, which Lydia is desperate he not return to. He seems happy enough to leave their life-planning to her, even though he doesn't seem convinced. He doesn't seem all that much of anything actually, and while Shafer maintained an absolute belief in his character, he didn't fill in the blanks the way Walsh did.
What did fill in some blanks was the assured and accomplished performance by Wende O'Reilly as Nadine, the neighbor who pays a welcome-wagon visit just a few minutes after Lydia and Blue get to their apartment. This is the best kind of example of a beautifully written and performed supporting performance, the kind that's often attempted but only rarely achieved. O'Reilly's Nadine came close to stereotype -- a much-married woman whose specialty is hospitality and Southern charm -- but the charm was real, and her appearances added depth to the play, and a welcome breath of fresh air. If Walsh was Edie Falco-like in her intensity and power, O'Reilly was Geraldine Page-like in her scene-stealing ability.
The Act 2 fiasco begins with Blue bringing a pick-up (Philip Galbraith) back to the apartment, with Lydia hiding in the bathroom. So far so good, but the "seduction" seemed more the playwright's imagination than the character's, and when an argument results in needing to do something with the lifeless body of the man, the hysteria is pitched with an odd sharpness that isn't supported by what we've seen of the characters. The scene gets saved by the appearance of Nadine, bearing a heartbreaking tale of woe of her own.
The set (designed by Viola Bradford) could very well be the seedy Florida apartment it portrayed, complete with lush growth outside the window. (The preponderance of blue was a bit much, so it was a good thing one of the characters comments on it.) Lighting effects (designed by Veronica) were subtle until the lights were dimmed and the stage was flooded with blue light (also noted by the character). Where did Lydia, who has whipped up curtains, a bedspread, a tablecloth, and a dress (out of surplus material provided by Nadine) in the few hours Blue has been out on his hunt for a john, find blue light bulbs? Costumes (by Beverly Bullock) fit the characters, with Nadine's having as much snap as she does.
The play drops hints of other matters which are not developed -- suggestions that Blue isn't as straight as he says he is; what Lydia's kleptomania is the result of (and how it relates to her faith in karma and her trust in brand-name consumer goods); Lydia's ability with a sewing machine (why can't she get a job as a seamstress?) -- but as a showcase for the talent of Kristin Walsh and Wende O'Reilly, Blue Alaska is hard to beat.
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Copyright 2003 David Mackler