BWW Review: World Premiere BIG SKY Examines How the Truth Shall Set You Free
The World Premiere of BIG SKY written by Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros and brilliantly directed by John Rando (Tony and Outer Critics Award winner for Urinetown) at the Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse fits in nicely with the theme of the Geffen's upcoming "Moments of Truth" season as revelations spoken by each cast member finally allow them to drop all pretense and work together toward a goal for their common good. And while the ending seems a bit obscure at first, listening to everyone talking about it as they were leaving the theater convinced me that something thought-provoking had just been shared with all of us.
The play is set in the comfy living room of a Ritz-Carlson condo in Aspen in present time with five-star amenities and family fallout on the itinerary as Jack (Jon Tenney) excitedly races to a series of meetings down the road at the company headquarters of a firm where he hopes to land his next high-paying job; a life-changing deal for his wife Jen (Jennifer Westfeldt), daughter Tessa (Emily Robinson) and friend Jonathan (Arnie Burtoin), his potential partner in an import business. But wide open spaces offer no place to hide as Jack's family fails to keep the truth about what is really going on with them as the rampaging blizzard threatens their very existence.
Much of the action centers on private conversations each family member has with their long-time friend Jonathan who acts as confessor for many of the deep, dark secrets being kept from other family members. And poor Jonathan was invited along in an attempt to help him get over the loss of his 17-year partner to cancer and his need to finally obtain a check promised to him by Jack to get their pillow importing business on track. Of course, unbeknownst to any of them, if Jack does not obtain this new job in Aspen, bankruptcy is on the horizon with no more funds left for any of them.
Each of the actors, all with ties to Broadway productions, does an absolutely wonderful job at expressing all the emotions lurking within their characters from hidden trysts to heartfelt longing for a better life. Anger, frustration, fear, confusion, and the consequences of losing the love of your life are brought into full focus throughout the play. And as Jen and Jack discussed their marriage, many moments of laughter erupted as truths evident to a lot of us about our own relationships were brought to light. It's never an easy road to follow with many bumps and detours along the way.
With such emotional and environmental tension always onstage, I have to admit the ending was a bit of a letdown and rather confusing at first as to whether the play had really ended when the light went out. I will leave it up to you to interpret it for yourself as I can only state my opinion that it was finally good to see the four characters at odds with each other finally brought together to work on the common goal of survival without any thought to money or failing relationships. It just seemed a bit rushed and unclear, perhaps worthy of a rewrite for future productions.
Fabulous technical credits for setting the mounting environmental tension go to Scenic Designer Derek McLane whose swirling blizzard outside the full-floor windows of the rather masculine-decorated condo is enhanced by the frightful Sound Design by Jon Gottlieb (especially the wall-rattling booming thunder and creaking wooden ceiling beams) and moody Lighting Design by Jaymi Lee Smith. It's amazing how much the characters are willing to admit when bathed in darkness illuminated by cell phone flashlights and lanterns. It's certainly easy to imagine either an avalanche or roof caving in is on the way as the tension mounts!
The World Premiere of BIG SKY continues at the Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024, through Sunday, July 17 with daily performance nightly except Mondays and matinees added on weekends. Tickets are currently priced from $32 to $82, available in-person at the Geffen Playhouse box office, via phone at 310.208.5454 or online at www.geffenplayhouse.org.
Photos by Darrett Sanders.
Jonathan (Arnie Burton) reacts to finally having his ski boots off.