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'Blue' delivers shifting surprises


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POSTED: Tuesday, June 02, 2009

There's a reason reviewers stay until the end of the show—and, no, it isn't because they're getting paid. Leave at intermission, as a handful of people did at the opening-night performance of “;Blue/Orange”; at the Actors Group on Friday, and you risk missing the moment that ties everything together or that takes the story in an unforeseen direction.

               

     

 

'Blue/Orange'

       

        Presented by The Actors Group
       

» Where: The Actors Group Theatre, 1116 Smith St., second floor

       

» When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 and 5:30 p.m. Sundays through June 21

       

» Cost: $16 general admission; $14 students and seniors; $12 for groups of 10; $5 Thursdays only for students with valid ID

       

» Call: 722-6941 or www.taghawaii.net

       

As directed by David C. Farmer, and starring Castle High School student London Stanton as Chris, an institutionalized mental patient, TAG's Hawaii premiere staging of English playwright Joe Penhall's contemporary drama delivers on both counts.

The play is at heart a statement on perceptions of race, power and mental illness in the English public health system. Chris, a young black man, is due for release from the facility where he was placed for observation after an unspecified “;psychotic act”; brought him to authorities' attention. However, two doctors disagree as to whether he should be held for treatment or released back into the community.

Dr. Flaherty, the doctor most familiar with Chris' case, thinks he should be held for a longer period of time. Dr. Smith, the senior of the two, opines that Chris has responded to treatment and should be allowed to go home.

The older doctor is a veteran infighter with a seasoned bureaucrat's skill at manipulating the system for personal advantage. If Dr. Flaherty suspects that his mentor/supervisor views Chris as an expendable guinea pig in a career-advancing research project, well, where should his allegiances lie?

That is the question at intermission. The relationships between the three characters shift several times in Act 2.

Stanton, last seen as the doomed man-child in TAG's production of “;A Lesson Before Dying,”; displays a command of character and a recognizably British English accent as well with his performance as Chris. In several scenes, Stanton silently but effectively conveys the impression that Chris is assessing the shifting balance of power between the two doctors and calibrating his behavior accordingly.

Thomas Smith (Dr. Flaherty), Stanton's sparring partner through much of Act 1, plays a complicated character with convincing success. The role demands more in Act 2, and Smith rises to the challenge.

Directors sometimes take liberties with a playwright's work to accommodate the dictates of political correctness or out of a personal need to “;improve”; on the finished script. Changing the character of Dr. Robert Smith from an older white male to a black female of indeterminate age makes such significant changes to the relationship between Chris and the two doctors that it would be a disservice to Farmer and to Jeanne Wynne Herring (Dr. Robin Smith) not to mention that she was an emergency replacement for a white male midway through the rehearsal process.

Herring played Dr. Smith as cold, smug and a bit distracted on opening night, but although she was still “;on book,”; she timed most of her glances at the script in such a way that they seemed like a doctor's matter-of-fact checking a patient's file for details while discussing the case.

Farmer and his wife, Loren K.D. Farmer, share credit with Andy Alvarado (set construction and dressing) for the development of the utilitarian “;day room”; set that frames the three-way battle for survival.