"The Blue Album"
Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven
“The Blue Album” is an appropriate title for the show now on Long Wharf’s Stage Two, because it is not a play at all. Rather, the program is a series of sketches—with monologues, dialogues and songs. In fact its author/performers, David Cale and Dael Orlandersmith, have treated the show like two sides of a record album, listing the numbers in the printed program like songs on a record sleeve.
As such, the show has both compensations and drawbacks. On the positive side is the impressive writing of each sketch, as well as the fine performances. Cale and Orlandersmith are highly-gifted in both respects. As writers, they take unflinching views of the human condition, which result in pieces that are often funny, poignant, gritty, and self-revealing. As performers they switch accents and personae in a flash, and in the process offer an array of memorable characters.
On the negative side is the lack of cohesion. Since there is no overall story, there is no arc, no emotional build-up, no sense of plot progression. One gets the same limited satisfaction that comes from musical revues. A revue can be entertaining, and, in the right hands, a high art form. But it never achieves the emotional clout of a musical or play with a strong story line.
Yet there are themes that run through the “Blue Album”--the themes of racism and homophobia and the sense of melancholy which gives the show its title. Granted that these themes are no longer startling revelations, but these writers manage to give us their unique take on these issues.
And indeed there are powerful moments. In one such moment Orlandersmith pretends to be a Polish immigrant, a butcher, who meets Billie Holiday in a run-down bar. We get the doomed Holiday, the hopeless scene, the young admirer all in one aching moment. Another is Orlandersmith’s monologue that depicts a rape, which she turns into her own searing poetry. Other tales tend more toward the comic, a welcome contrast.
Gordon Edelstein has mounted the piece with economy and originality, in a style which serves the short pieces well and takes the viewer smoothly from one scene to the next. The bland set which one sees initially takes on exciting new forms with each new sketch (courtesy of set designer Neil Patel and lighting designer Jennifer Tipton).
In all, “The Blue Album” provides, within its limitations, an intriguing evening of theater.
-- Irene Backalenick
Apr. 4, 2007