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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Magic Theatre Production of
Rebecca Gilman’s Blue Surge,
a Wonderful Complex Play

Blue Surge
John Flanagan and Jibz Cameron
The Magic Theatre is currently presenting the west coast premiere of Rebecca Gilman’s Blue Surge at Fort Mason Center, San Francisco. This is one of the Magic Theatre’s best productions of the current season. Ms. Gilman is one of America’s best naturalistic playwrights and is one of the few authors who is dealing with social problems in today’s society. It is a pleasure to see a play that does not experiment with the language or try for hidden symbols. Her plays fall in the realm of traditional chronology and there are no abstract techniques; everything is sensibly presented. Gilman’s natural drama had its world premiere at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre in 1999 and this year played at the Public Theatre in New York. The play has been revised to make it a well developed tighter play.

Blue Surge takes its title from a 1941 Duke Ellington song called "Blue Serge," which a lead character misinterprets as being about a “surge” of blues that is really his life. The song is actually about a cheap blue serge suit, as the character finds out. The drama follows two cops, two hookers and an upscale fiancée, and opens on a failed raid of a massage parlor in a Midwestern town where the police attempt to bust some prostitutes. The two cops become romantically involved with the two hookers after their arrest. Curt (John Flanagan) is a complex, sensitive man who dreams of giving tours at the local nature preserve when he retires. Sandy (Kristen Roeters) is one of the hookers and Curt decides to help her find a better life for herself. However, he discovers later that he may need her more than she needs him. He is trying to come to terms with his yearnings and his poor background. Curt’s fiancée (Corie Henninger) is an affluent artist who insists she is not class-conscious, yet always seems slightly embarrassed by her blue collar mate. Curt's partner Doug (Darren Bridgett) is a not-too-bright screw-up who has a romantic interest in the other hooker, the very experienced Heather (Jibz Cameron). Bridgett and Cameron play these roles mostly for comic relief, and the characters are close to stereotypes of lowlifes, played matter-of-factly by the actors. This skillful tale of five characters makes for wonderful engaging theater. It is straightforward and uncomplicated and, at the same time, very emotionally fulfilling.

The ensemble acting is top drawer. John Flanagan gives a complex performance that is both sweet and sad as Curt. Doug is caught to perfection by Darren Bridgett; his is a laid back natural performance of a not too bright cop. Kristen Roeters is brilliant as the naïve just out of high school hooker Sandy who has no idea what she wants in life. She produces a great physical tension between herself and Curt. Jibz Cameron as Heather plays a marvelous drunk in one scene that is a comic tour de force. Corie Henninger as the upscale artist fiancée is chic and elegant in the role.

Amy Glazer's direction is sterling, and she gives the play a marvelous and easy pace, sometimes quick and other times letting the characters emerge slowly so we get to know them better. Eric Sinkkonen's set is spacious and versatile. On the floor of the three sided stage is a blue outline and hanging overhead are blue pipes on each side. The scenic designer uses black light to illuminate the ceiling pipes, which is very effective. Sets, such as the sleazy massage parlor, a small town bar with a neon sign and bottles of booze and a cheap Pullman type kitchen, slip very easily into place.

Blue Surge runs thru April 20th at the Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org. There next production will be Martin McDonagh’s Broadway hit The Lonesome West starting June 13th.


Photo by David Allen


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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