Since playwright Kelly Doyle and director Mark Sutch beat the point into the ground, let us freely stipulate that in our earliest loves we are absurd.
We torture logic, language and friends to handcraft and protect our first precious misconceptions about identity, attraction and relationships—basically, life and how to live it with any shred of authenticity. But since we already knew that, the multiple incongruities of character and implausibilities of plot we encounter during the world premiere of Doyle's new play, Blue, come off as an exercise in Brechtian overkill.
When theatrical miscalculations zero out our sympathies for both main characters early on, and dispense with our disbelief shortly thereafter, the question raised isn't "Can this marriage be saved?" It's unfortunately a lot closer to, "Who gives a damn?"
By the third scene, we've not only met but already divested from the less-than-subtly named Adagio—a 30-something man-child whose emotional maturity hasn't progressed appreciably since the fourth grade—and Louise, who's been his partner for an absolutely unbelievable 20 years and, as a result, has turned into more than a bit of a noodge. It wasn't only clear by then that Adagio was a lot more into comic books than he was steady employment. As performed by John Jimerson, Adagio, with his minimal vocabulary and iterative sentence structures—plus his craving for order and unvarying routine—suggests the strong possibility of an autism spectrum disorder as well. By that scene, the brittle, joyless Louise (Kerrie Seymour) had already ricocheted between embracing and rejecting him several times, her words veering back and forth between counterfeited delight and equally manufactured crisis more than her emotions actually did. They're not exactly candidates for fun couple of the year.
But if those initial scenes suggest what a Mister Rogers' Neighborhood episode written by Nora Ephron might have looked like, Doyle and Sutch still spend too much time compromising the integrity of both characters. As a result, we don't buy the 10-year-old child in the 30-year-old man's body, or the 20-year relationship and marriage—one whose sophistication doesn't appear to have developed more than two weeks beyond a tree-carving commitment ceremony the two shared in the fourth grade. How could Louise have possibly stayed two decades in such a relationship when we're as over it as she is within Blue's first 15 minutes? When a work undercuts the validity of its own characters' circumstances and words this much, we tend to stop believing, stop trusting—and, ultimately, stop caring. It's a truly dangerous place for a playwright and director to deliberately lead an audience.
What happens next? At long last, Louise embarks on a voyage of self-discovery. But that odyssey eventually proves just as ersatz as the character's 30-year naivete beforehand. At a circus she discovers William, a scuzzy, self-styled escape artist performing under yet another transparently metaphorical name: The Blue Worm. John Allore's vivid supporting performance gives this production a few moments of oxygen and adrenaline. (This role is the latest in a series of distracted and destructive chaos agents for Allore.)
While William gets a memorable series of punk-inflected, self-absorbed observations, Doyle saddles Louise with boilerplate clichés about relationships and feelings. Presumably, this demonstrates her character's endless capacity to reframe—or encase—her reality's less agreeable parts in empty words. She has "decided to try living." William "enthralls" her. After he openly berates her, Louise says "We're a lot alike, you and I," when nothing could be further from the truth. By that point, her discourse has lost all integrity. The lines come off completely bogus, a spin that deludes no one but, possibly, herself. Through scenes with William and a brief rapprochement with Adagio, Louise never plausibly raises her own consciousness: We're not sure she ever gained consciousness to begin with.
Had Jean-Paul Sartre and Todd Solondz teamed up to write an ABC Afterschool Special for grown-ups, the result might resemble this nihilistic little quest, which takes a character from innocence to experience—while somehow deftly avoiding almost any accumulation of insight along the way. Perhaps Doyle and Sutch pursue their Brechtian alienation to get us to ask ourselves if we ever were so naive or inauthentic in our earliest relationships—or, more damning, if we still are. Few of us are likely to be willing to admit just how many of Louise's or Adagio's lines at some point came from our own mouths. But the show's concluding motto, "Live ... and don't learn," isn't just a thin takeaway: Ultimately it's as hard to buy as much that has preceded it. And a rather desperate final scene draws our attention to the degree that the playwright hasn't outwitted her audience—or a scripting dilemma she arrives at but doesn't resolve.
Correction (Jan. 21, 2011): The character Adagio was misidentified as Allegro; see comments below.