Theater review: ‘Mud Blue Sky’ at Center Stage is a beautiful story about scraping by

Let’s remember Marisa Wegrzyn’s name. The Chicago-bred playwright, 31, has earned prizes and commissions across the theater world, so, of course, she has already split for the commercially greener pastures of Hollywood. That’s what happens when playwrights are good, and in her new, 90-minute “Mud Blue Sky” at Baltimore’s Center Stage, Wegrzyn has written an up-to-the-minute hard-times play that is next door to terrific.

The drama takes place during one lonely night in a dreary hotel near O’Hare Airport, and it follows three veteran flight attendants and a teenage boy adrift on his prom night. The play settles for what sounds like random chattiness as Sam gears up for a lively evening off before an early flight while Beth says she’d rather stay in. Wegrzyn doesn’t hit any kind of stride until Beth slips out to the parking lot to meet the kid, Jonathan, a dealer who’s waiting with a bag of weed.

As they stand and chat in the gravel alley behind the hotel, Wegrzyn seems deeply at ease with their relaxed dynamic. So do director Susanna Gellert and the actors. Susan Rome has an unforced yet prickly quality as Beth, whose back injury we sense in Rome’s careful postures, and whose cynicism is exaggerated by cannabis.

“Don’t listen to anybody ever,” Beth declares to Jonathan, who, at 17, can’t decide whether he’s going to college or what. Justin Kruger nicely gauges the awkwardness of this character, who is astutely dressed by costume designer Jennifer Moeller in a rented tux and scuffed Chuck Taylors.

They end up in Susan’s hotel room with the randy Sam (Eva Kaminsky) and Beth’s former colleague Angie (Cynthia Darlow), who was fired by the airline two years ago. The setup is funny: a quirky lad and three women old enough to be his mother, all not quite cutting loose with cognac and porn. Wegrzyn nails the farcical possibilities when she wants to.

Even so, for a long time the drama seems as aimless as its small gallery of misfits and mess-ups, and midway through you may wish that Wegrzyn would somehow raise the stakes. She does: The details accrue as Sam frets about her own 17-year-old boy, left home alone as she flies around the country, as Beth ponders the airline’s paltry buyout package that she may or may not take, and so on. The dead-end anecdotes of personal loss and of scraping by begin to sound terribly real.

A long, late monologue from Angie feels a little bit like a desperate Hail Mary heave as Wegrzyn tries to tie all her loose ends together. Yet “Mud Blue” lands beautifully, ending fast and hard. It’s not quite a knockout, but it takes a rock-solid swing at what it feels like to live in a land where the opportunities seem ever more tenuous.

Nelson Pressley is a freelance writer.

Mud Blue Sky

by Marisa Wegrzyn. Directed by Susanna Gellert. Lights, Scott Zielinski; sound design, Victoria (Toy) Delorio. About 90 minutes. Through April 14 at Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St., Baltimore. Call 410-332-0033 or visit centerstage.org.

Nelson Pressley has been writing about theater and other arts – but mostly theater – for the Post since 1999.
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