Genesis West | Surrealism of the Blue Heart
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Surrealism of the Blue Heart

From the Santa Barbara Independent, 11/8/05


Surrealism of the Blue Heart

Blue Heart. At Center Stage Theater, Saturday, October 5. Runs through November 19.
Reviewed by Bojana Hill

Genesis West Theater Company opened its season with Blue Heart, a work by a British post-modernist playwright Caryl Churchill. The audience’s anticipatory curiosity was rewarded by a clever and surprising theatrical experience-superbly acted and imaginatively designed.

Blue Heart comprises two related short plays: Heart’s Desire and Blue Kettle. Both are about parents and children, and as such are painfully realistic. Brian, father of a 35-year-old daughter who has just returned from a long stay in Australia, walks into the kitchen where his wife Alice sets knives and forks on a table, while Auntie Maisie fidgets about. Within seconds of this opening, the scene is disrupted by the sudden departure of the actors and a swift rotation of the stage (an innovative Tal Sanders design). When the actors return to their original places and the stage has completed its orbit, the same scene or a fragment of it is played again. This is the pattern of Heart’s Desire, and it continued to intrigue the audience even after it began to expect it. Brian’s opening line, “She is taking her time,” never failed to arouse laughter, but it was the variations in content and even speed of delivery that proved humorous in their absurdity. The three of them are waiting for the daughter to ring a bell, but they may as well be waiting for Godot to appear. Tom Hinshaw as Brian, Leslie Gangl Howe as Maisie, and Meredith McMinn as Alice all delivered their lines with intelligence and humor. These are well-rehearsed performances that depend on precise and perfectly timed acting.

The play challenges our assumptions about time and space, as well as subverts our notions of language. Blue Kettle is about a grown adopted son who cons middle-aged women into believing they are his mother. Again, Churchill blends realistic themes of human longing and betrayal with surreal elements, in this case language. Blue Kettle’s movement is increasingly toward truth if not toward light. In their dialogues, both Derek (Chris Turner) and his various mothers substitute “blue” and “kettle” more or less randomly for many other words. This unexpected shift in communication is a shift in paradigm, for neither individual remains the same at the end of the play.

In favor of experimental theater, and in defense of absurdity, let it be said that, if a theater is to mirror our internal questions, it must pose them on stage. We are indeed fortunate that Genesis West is back in Santa Barbara, and staging the challenging plays of such innovative contemporary playwrights as Caryl Churchill.