WTF's 'The Blue Deep': Defying gravity in shallow water

Wednesday July 4, 2012

WILLIAMSTOWN -- There is a moment late in Lucy Boyle's uneven new play, "The Blue Deep," of remarkable force and clarity.

A 65-year-old art gallery owner named Grace (an overly fussy and too-busy Blythe Danner) is rooting around beneath the rear deck of her home in Sag Harbor, N.Y. among the debris still left after a porcelain cookie jar containing the ashen remains of her recently deceased husband has shattered after being dropped accidentally. She spies what she is convinced is more than ash -- a piece of bone -- and it sends her into a paroxysm of intense physical pain. More than that, it permits her to do something she has not permitted herself to do -- grieve and, in that process, acknowledge fully her overwhelming loss. She describes to her estranged daughter, Lila (Heater Lind), the texture of his body, his skin; his manner in his final moments.

This anguished outburst also allows Lila, who has been living in Los Angeles and now has come home ostensibly to regroup in the aftermath of a break-up with her live-in boyfriend, to give in to the grief she has denied herself. For these two women, who have been separated by a lot more than geography, this shared moment provides the opportunity for a reconciliation that still does not come easily to Grace who, as played by Danner, can be cold, hard, unforgiving, dismissive of her daughter's choices.

"Time to move on, get on with it," Grace says brusquely at several turns earlier in the play as she busies herself in the small details of life as if standing still would mean death. Only now, in this one moment with Lila can she give those words more than lip service.

Set entirely in the back yard of Grace's home, "The Blue Deep" is mostly concerned with the idle conversation and comings and goings of Grace, Lila, Grace's houseguests -- her best friends, Roberta (a spikey, puckish Becky Ann Baker) and her husband, Charlie, who as played by Jack Gilpin, offers Lila fatherly reassurance and comfort -- and a hunky gardener named Jamie (an amiable enough Finn Wittrock), who turns out to have as much brain power as sex appeal and who is clearly interested in Lila.

Fundamentally, "The Blue Deep" is about letting go and moving on; about overcoming one's fear of flying --literally and metaphorically -- but Boyle's hit-and-miss writing only sporadically takes off.

The writing is unsettled; bits and pieces. Sometimes Boyle's writing is revealing and clever; at other times just marking time.

In more capable hands, what's not said in this play would resonate as meaningfully as what is said. With Boyle, you get the feeling that most of "The Blue Deep" is content to stay in the shallow end of Grace's back yard swimming pool.


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