A two-week extension might not be enough for Rebecca Gilman's "Blue Surge," receiving its West Coast premiere at the Magic Theatre. The first extra Saturday night performance I attended was SRO, delaying the curtain while ushers shoe-horned everyone in. The wait was worth it, for this is a truly intriguing play by a skilled playwright who's not afraid to tackle issues that many others might overlook.
In "Blue Surge," two undercover cops in a small Midwestern town try to shut down a massage parlor that's actually a house of prostitution. Their effort fails, but each becomes involved with a hooker. Doug (Darren Bridgett) falls for Heather (Jibz Cameron) mainly for a good time. Curt (John Flanagan) likes to talk with young Sandy (Kirsten Roeters) and wants to help her find a more respectable job. Both relationships evolve in unexpected yet plausible ways. A complication for Curt is that he's engaged to Beth (Corie Henninger), an artist.
Most of the plot focuses on Curt and Sandy, but Gilman gives us a solid sense of the other three characters, too. She also paints a realistic, sympathetic portrait of people who come from hardscrabble lives, helping to explain why they're in their present circumstances. Curt's late mother, for example, was depressed and ill for most of his youth, leading to poverty and embarrassment for him. Her illness also kept him from going to college, and lack of a college degree is keeping him from advancing in the police department. In a long yet powerful diatribe, Sandy says that her mother has been married five times and now is in a lesbian relationship with a woman who has four bratty kids, thus driving Sandy from home and into the massage parlor. On the other hand, Beth comes from an upper middle-class family, a fact that leads to an angry confrontation that's an eye-opener for both Curt and her.
In one interesting twist, it's Doug who's initially the goof-off, while Curt tries to help him and to play by the rules, but later the roles are reversed as Doug tries to keep Curt from jeopardizing his career. The ending is somewhat ambiguous for Curt, Sandy, Doug and Heather. It's not fairy-tale perfect, yet it has its positive aspects, for all four are more focused on where they're going than they were at the beginning.
Sure-handed director Amy Glazer and the well-chosen cast do full justice to the play, aided by Eric Sinkkonen's flexible set design, Jim Cave's lighting, Norman Kern's sound (great rain effects) and Kira Kristensen's costumes. The title, by the way, comes from Curt's misunderstanding of a Duke Ellington song, "Blue Serge." There's no misunderstanding about this play, however. It has nary a false note.
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