Center Theater

Blue Window is not so much a story as a portrait of seven people — three couples and a friend. When I first saw it more than a year ago, at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta, it struck me as little more than a character study, an “actor’s piece,” a play of no substantial importance. The Center Theater production changed my mind. This time the play wasn’t overpowered by the professional cuteness of a director enamored with his own technique, or by actors competing for the honor of best performance. This time the ensemble simply presented the play itself. And in the group portrait that emerged, I found something very special — a sense of space, a blue space, that separated the characters one from another.

One by one the characters are introduced. It’s a Sunday evening in Manhattan, an hour or two before they are all about to gather at a party. Libby, the hostess, is an inexplicably nervous young woman, and as she hustles around preparing punch and so forth, the other characters crowd the stage, invisible to one another, since they’re still at home getting ready, creating an initial impression of an artificial but extremely significant space that crops up between people.

A few scenes later, with the initial character exposition laid to rest, the guests gather at the party. The group includes one lesbian couple (a self-obsessed writer and a family therapist), one heterosexual couple (a secretary and a studio musician), Norbert (Libby’s skydiving instructor), and Griever (Libby’s confidant from group therapy). Despite Griever’s enthusiastic efforts to make the party work, these people do not get along: they don’t know each other, and they have no common ground whatsoever.

They try, in a desultory way, to make party talk. Alice, the writer, instigates and dominates a hyperintellectual conversation about literature. Tom, the musician, counters by playing a postmodern jazz album that drives everyone up the wall. Boo, the family therapist, tries to pick things up by asking Emily what she does. She’s a secretary — yet another conversation stopper Norbert, well, he’s just very quiet and politely enigmatic. Eventually all of Alice’s attempts to establish a tone of urban sophistication break down. In response to a rather reductive opinion that Germans are obsessed with toilet training, Tom responds, “So they killed six million Jews?”

The party itself is a very funny comment on the awkwardness of what we consider civilized behavior. But I was glad that the direction (by Tracy Friedman and Dan LaMorte) didn’t allow the play to devolve into a comedy revue. That mistake could have easily been made; so many scenes beg to be excerpted as comic audition pieces. Yet the play held together, and the only reason I can point to is the fundamental, but somehow unobtrusive, symbolism of the blue window. So, what’s a blue window?

Right now, as I sit here at the typewriter, it’s 6:30 PM, and I’m looking out the window trying to figure out how to describe this symbol. The sky is almost indigo, the darkest shade of blue, just before it turns to black. For a city lover, this is the only part of the day when nature triumphs over architecture. Now, and for perhaps another ten minutes, I’m a part of a great and tender mystery.

After the party’s over in Blue Window, Libby tells Norbert about just such an evening, when the sky was that color, and her husband called her out to the balcony. They leaned against the railing and kissed. Problem was, it was a brand-new condo and the railing had never been attached to the wall. Libby’s husband broke her fall and she survived. At this point of the play it becomes apparent why Libby had signed up for skydiving but, after three trips up, had yet to make her jump. Earlier, during the party, Norbert had made the play’s one and only reference to a “blue window,” when he described the open door of the airplane.

Also after the party, Tom and Emily are killing time in their alienated way. He’s picking out a song on his guitar, and she’s watching (the blue window of her) TV with the sound off. Shortly, and again without the overt sort of symbolism that beats you over the head, Emily voices a wish that people had little windows in their heads, so she could look in and see what’s going on. Alone together, they’re the classic dead-end couple. He has the music, and she has the words, but they haven’t a clue as to how to make a song.

So, you see, Blue Window is like a braid that is frayed at both ends. These people come together, entwine in a strange way for an evening, and then unravel. The story isn’t complete, but the portrait is. There’s no tight dramatic conclusion. The woven and unwoven strands of the characters’ lives don’t so much come to a point, as they come to a point of rest. It’s an epiphany on a downbeat. And this is the only point where I found the fidelity of the direction to falter. Instead of allowing the play to fade to blue, Friedman and/or LaMorte opted for an upbeat ending, with Tom playing an imaginary grand piano, Griever dancing around like an idiot, and lots of hugs and kisses. Oh well.

The overall portrait remains, however, of a human condition in which people’s lives are defined by the space that separates them. And the coming together may be as simple as a trip around the sofa, or as impossible as picking up a telephone. It’s a credit to Craig Lucas’s fine script that this portrait should emerge so subtly, like a reflection glimpsed in passing by a blue window.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jennifer Girard.