Whiskey in Blue, Curious Theatre Branch, at the Lunar Cabaret. As a rule, Beau O’Reilly is a master of exquisite detail, a playwright with a golden ear for naturalistic dialogue. But he’s also a man of surprises, and in his latest full-length work–a grim, haunting portrait of a pair of hard-livin’, heavy-drinkin’ vagrants–he also uses broad, sweeping strokes to convey his take on the Great Depression. O’Reilly remains astonishingly adept at painting pictures with words, but what distinguishes Whiskey in Blue is its emphasis on tone, established in many of his earlier works through the natural rhythms of dialogue. But dialogue is at a premium here, since words are more precious to these characters than either food or whiskey.

O’Reilly’s approach also seems a bit more organic than usual: in a canny move, he’s left it up to his cast of four to fill in the details and add the color to his skeletal work. Kat McJimsey crosses gender lines convincingly as the crippled yet eternally optimistic Farmboy, while Paul Leisen offers a more muted performance as the strong-armed guardian Tommy O. But both draw on unusually extensive emotional palettes.

Conclusions remain O’Reilly’s lone weakness as a playwright; given the despair and displacement conveyed throughout the play, its less-than-morbid climax is an awful letdown.

–Nick Green