Playwright Tom Donaghy's Minutes From the Blue Route offers a surprisingly tender, conciliatory look at a mildly dysfunctional family. And with its production of the piece, the Boulder Repertory Company has once again distinguished itself as a troupe capable of doing emotionally sophisticated work with quietly challenging material.
The tensions of the play lie below the surface--we understand more about this family from reading between the lines than from anything that is explicitly said. Without director/actor Frank Georgianna's fine-tuned guidance, in fact, the story could be dull as dishwater. But though its suburban turmoil is so familiar that it practically squeaks "bourgeois boredom," the production never drags for an instant.
In Donaghy's tale, parents let go of their adult children, and the offspring cling for a moment, then must let go, too. It's the same old story, but it's told here with a degree of wisdom and lifelike realism that saves it from schmaltz--or worse, cynicism. As the lights come up, Mother is staring at her Oldest. He is handsome, in his mid-twenties, and hasn't been home in six months. It is clear at once that he doesn't want to be there now, either. We soon learn that his 21-year-old sister is being difficult about school--she has a full scholarship but doesn't want to return. Sorely displeased, the parental units have summoned the Oldest home to counsel the Youngest on the benefits of a college education.
Naturally, there's a little more to it than that. Mother is having an anxiety attack about money and wants to sell the house and move to a more modest apartment. But the Youngest just doesn't seem willing to leave home, even though she seems to resent everything her mother says to her. For reasons that are never explained, the older woman feels she must accommodate her daughter, even if it means giving up her own dreams.
The Oldest needs to get back to work, but the parents manage to get involved in a car accident on the way home from a wedding and draw him into their web of need. After a while, we learn that the young man is gay and HIV-positive. (This is probably the only play in recent memory dealing with an AIDS theme that never mentions the name of the disease--we know it only by inference.) Mother's other secret agenda is to check out her son, to see how he's doing. She's afraid that if he does get AIDS, his medical needs will wipe out her and Father's resources. She has visited the elderly in nursing homes, and she knows what's in store for those without the financial means to protect themselves. Her fears are real and well-founded, but the edge of hysteria in her voice, the self-concern she can't hide, and the anger that is so often the response to crises make her seem embarrassingly petty when she scolds her son.
Georgianna plays Father with so many layers that he calls to mind many of the real-life dads that teenagers both despair of and brag about. He is alternately gruff and tender, understanding and insensitive, shallow and wise. A little bewildered by that terrible sadness of approaching age, a little ticked at his wife's fussy withdrawal, anxious for his children yet predictably uninvolved with the daily issues of their lives, Georgianna's Father is finally sympathetic, smart, and a wholesome influence.
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Ryla Wolfe plays Mother with an edge, making her the most unsympathetic character in the play. Mother's self-concern is so aberrant that you understand why the Youngest dislikes her so much. And as for the kids, they're terrific. Cary Seston makes the Youngest's post-adolescent rebellion as intense and involving as possible, while Robert Trentadue gives the Oldest a charming, boyish gentility that throws all the other characters' bad behavior into relief.
The Boulder Repertory Company is like a good chamber orchestra in which a few players combine to make a very refined sound. And this play is the perfect unpretentious chamber piece for them. It begins slowly but builds up to something fine and true. Nothing terribly important happens in Minutes except the flow of life itself--and that, after all, is always important.
Minutes From the Blue Route, through August 24 at the Boulder Public Library, 9th Street and Canyon Boulevard, Boulder, 449-7258.