SAN DIEGO — Craig Lucas' "Blue Window" is a subtle, complex play that says more on later examination than it suggests on initial viewing.
On the surface, it seems like yet another version of "Return of the Secaucus 7" and "The Big Chill": Several people, some of them couples, seek an elusive intimacy in a gathering at one person's home. While these movies deal primarily with why people want connection, this play maps out the oft-fought battle between the desire for intimacy and the fear of it. Commitment is pictured as the blue window that sky divers see when they get ready to jump from a plane. Some people jump. Others hesitate, some to be pushed, some to never leave the plane.
The San Diego Repertory Theatre production of "Blue Window," now playing through July 12 on the Lyceum Stage, does not tap into all the electricity that this material affords. But it does have its pleasures and, in the end, the thought-provoking nature of the work carries the show.
The seven characters in the play are all facing different crises of commitment. Libby, a 33-year-old single woman, is terrified of being held, yet wants connection desperately enough to plan her first party in seven years.
Her fears stem from her last relationship, which ended in an accident that left her bruised, broken and alone. While her tragedy was a physical one, it also works as a metaphor for the pain incurred when one loves and loses.
Two of the guests are unattached--Griever, a funny, mercurial fellow from Libby's therapy group who would like to be attached to her, and Norbert, a sober, gentle sky-diving instructor from whom she is taking lessons in how to fall safely.
Whom she prefers says a lot about what sort of person is needed to make a relationship work.
The other two are couples. Alice and Boo have a stable lesbian relationship that is undergoing a crisis caused by overworking.
Tom and his girlfriend, Emily, have a far more tenuous bond. Tom is a self-absorbed musician and Emily is passive and inarticulate. Still, in a telling aside at the party (which no one but the audience is supposed to hear), Emily sings a finished version of a touching song that Tom has been struggling to write. This suggests that, although he will be the only one to get credit for the song, he is tapping her feelings for the inspiration.
Before and after the party, all the characters live in the same space, surrealistically unaware of each other, much like the man and woman in Lucas' "Marry Me a Little" at the Cassius Carter Centre Stage.
This works much better than public television's recent American Playhouse presentation, which had the camera follow the characters into their own separate apartments. What doesn't work as well is the pace, which, under Sam Woodhouse's direction, drags when it should crackle. This may be due in part to the cast, which is a bit uneven. The sparks fly between Ellen Blake as Alice and Diana Castle as Boo, but despite some fine moments, many of which are delivered by Eric Menyuk as the funny Griever, the others seem less like a part of an ensemble than like solos in a group.
Stephanie Dunnam (who played the beautiful mistress in the television production of "Mistral's Daughter") seems too fresh and untouched to summon up all the dark baggage that Libby drags around. Christine Sevec sings nicely, but teeters on the overemotional line as Emily. Paul Nolan and Jim Mooney do fine in the limited roles of Norbert and Tom, respectively, without really making them come alive.
The set by Jill Moon is a puzzlement. The starkness of the overall design works, but why the big cartoons on the wall? They're distracting. Juli Bohn's costumes are simple and attractive--the flamboyant turban is perfect for Alice, but isn't it odd that Libby can wear such a revealing dress without displaying a single scar? Peter Maradudin's lighting negotiates the changing day nicely, and Burnham Joiner's sound is effective.
In a show rich with images, one of the most telling seems at first the most superficial. Before the party starts, Libby breaks a capped tooth, which causes her to hold her finger over her mouth and linger in the kitchen at every opportunity. Her anxiety about showing this small injury underscores how reluctant she is to share anything about her major injury, in which all her teeth had to be replaced by caps.
As such, her trepidation symbolizes the conundrum at the heart of the play. The people at her party might be horrified. They might reject her. But until she opens herself up, there's no potential for true intimacy. She's just sitting on the plane, afraid to jump.
"BLUE WINDOW" By Craig Lucas. Director is Sam Woodhouse. Music and lyrics by William Bolcom. Musical arrangements by Michael Roth. Choreography by Patrick Nollet. Sets by Jill Moon. Costumes by Juli Bohn. Lighting by Peter Maradudin. Sound by Burnham Joiner. Stage manager is Lisa Medwid. With Christine Sevec, Jim Mooney, Stephanie Dunnam, Paul Nolan, Diana Castle, Eric Menyuk and Ellen Blake. Musicians are Laura Hunter, Jeannette Welsh, Hollie Hunt Burke and Linda Cummiskey. At 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday with Sunday matinees at 2. Closes July 12. At the San Diego Repertory Theatre's Lyceum Stage, 79 Horton Plaza, San Diego.