BWW Review: Ned Averill-Snell Stands Out in Jobsite Theater's Fine Production of Israel Horovitz's GLOUCESTER BLUE
"We need to create a hostile environment." --Lexi talking to two house painters about her method of ridding rodents in GLOUCESTER BLUE
"Better to be pissed off than pissed on." --Latham in GLOUCESTER BLUE
There's nothing better than that rare moment when the stars align, and you attend a show where acting, directing, and writing combine to form a night's perfect entertainment. There's a sort of electricity in the air, when the audience knows it's witnessing something fantastic. You see it on the faces during intermission and after the show--a gleeful glow. You feel it in your bones. And then you find yourself acting like a Paul Revere of the theatre world, loudly telling everyone you know that a really good show is in town and you (whoever you are) really need to see it.
In the three years that I've been reviewing for Broadway World, a handful of non-musicals have turned me into that theatrical town crier: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at freeFall, Annapurna and Time Stands Still at Jobsite, Good People and Radio Golf at American Stage, and The Aliens at Stageworks. These are shows that hit me in just the right spot, that became my go-to shows when other plays at the same time weren't quite cutting it. They gave me hope in the power of the stage and rivaled theater anywhere, not just around the Bay area. Jobsite Theater's production of Israel Horovitz's GLOUCESTER BLUE is so much fun--exactly the flavor of ice cream that I adore (dark, dark chocolate)--that it easily joins this classy class of plays.
This is one home grown production that you want to experience, to talk about, to laugh throughout, to suck in your breath at the twist of events, and to live that cliché of all clichés--to literally sit on the edge of your seat as I did.
Set in Horovitz's adopted town of Gloucester, Massachusetts, the title refers to a shade of paint color, but don't let that fool you; GLOUCESTER BLUE is one of the most exciting, unpredictable, laugh-out-loud funny and enjoyably pitch-black experiences I've ever had at the theater. I don't want to give too much of the plot away because part of the show's joy is in the way it unspools.
It opens with two men painting the loft owned by a hoity-toity couple. The innocuous talk of the two men at the start is brilliantly written by Horovitz; although some people might complain that it goes on too long, I found it just right, especially since we feel a slight undercurrent of dread during the whole establishing portion of the show. Enter Lexi and Bummy, the wealthy couple, and you have not just an obvious class struggle, but a story that becomes mesmerizing, horrifying, hilarious, with a surprise at every turn. This is one of Horovitz's strongest scripts, which is saying something. And yes, for much of the show, a room is being painted before our eyes, and I never imagined house paint could seem so interesting. It's a brilliant conceit, and it works wonders theatrically: The room is coming together as the lives of those onstage are coming unhinged.
As Latham, one of the hired house painters with a shady past and a love of Aerosmith, Ned Averill-Snell does more than just inhabit the role. He is alive and real, flesh and blood, always in the moment, and we have no idea where his performance will go. It's dizzying in its unpredictability. I have seen Averill-Snell in many local shows, most of which he was the highlight, from a winning Hickey in The Iceman Cometh to Orgon in an updated Tartuffe last November. But he has never been better than he is here. This is some of the best acting I've seen since Rebecca Dines shook me with her performance in Good People and Paul Potenza rocked my world in Annapurna a couple of years back. It's an awe-inspiring turn, so strong that you almost feel sorry for the other cast members (good as they are, your eyes are constantly on him; it's a meaty role).
Georgia Mallory Guy is quite good, if not over-the-top as the annoying Lexi. Her acting style collides with Averill-Snell's brilliantly, two different modes that work well off each other. And Landon Green is just right as Stumpy, the poor sap who has to spend the day working with Latham (and discussing topics as diverse as NPR and Donald Trump's hair). The last cast member, Drew Smith, seems more than a tad young as Bummy--more high schooler than Harvard grad. He doesn't have the oomph, the presence, that the other actors bring, but age aside, he suits the role well enough. Besides, it's Ned Averill-Snell's show, and Smith's long Act 2 scene unfortunately follows the excellence of Act 1.
David Jenkins' direction once again scores big (he's on a roll after The Aliens and A Skull in Connemara). This is a gorgeously paced show with only an occasional dry spot. And the (literally) dinging, glimmering moment of recognition that members of the cast have before they do their dirty deeds is a thing of beauty. Summer Bohnenkamp's costumes ring true, especially the separate colored jumpsuits that Stumpy and Latham wear. (Gray, the color of Latham's jumpsuit, is a perfect choice for someone whose morals are questionable at best.) Brian M. Smallheer's set is wonderfully detailed, beautifully backed by Ryan E. Finzelber's evocative lighting.
It's not a perfect show. Act 1 is much stronger than Act 2 mainly due to Act 2's too-long lull at the beginning (it takes awhile for the show to get back on track). And yes, there are moments that ring truer than others. But who cares? This is one hell of a strong play, one that I recommend wholeheartedly.
After the final, eye-opening scene of GLOUCESTER BLUE takes place (I won't even try to describe it for you here), and after the requisite standing ovation, the audience flocked out of the Shimberg Playhouse, giddy and adrenaline-rushed. I overheard one audience member talking to a friend, and her words seemed to sum up the experience we had just had: "Murder and fucking; yep, you know it's a Jobsite show!"
Jobsite Theater's GLOUCESTER BLUE runs through June 11th at the Shimberg Playhouse in the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. For tickets, call (813) 229-STAR.