Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Barry Pineo, Fri., April 2, 2004
Hyde Park Theatre, through April 17
Running Time: 2 hrs
There's a moment toward the beginning of this Rebecca Gilman play in which a young vice detective named Doug strips in order to receive a "massage" from a "therapeutic massage specialist" dressed in provocative lingerie. After Doug gets the young woman to agree to have sex with him, he pulls out his badge, and because she knows he entrapped her and the charge will never stick, she laughs at him. At which point Doug, standing in front of her naked except for his socks, says, "I don't care if you respect the man as long as you respect the badge."
If you can see the humor in that, then you should enjoy this latest offering from director Ken Webster and Hyde Park Theatre. Webster has made a career out of discovering quirky, funny scripts by new, young playwrights that manage to entertain at the same time that they offer consistent insight into our culture, and that describes Gilman's Blue Surge perfectly. It's the first script by the Chicago-based playwright to be produced in Austin, and in it Gilman displays an ear for realistic dialogue and interaction that goes straight to the heart of our alienated, objectified, consumer-oriented society. Her story revolves around Curt, a vice detective assigned to shut down a local massage parlor. Curt is low on self-esteem he thinks of himself as poor and kind of dumb and doesn't understand why his "rich" fiancée, Beth, wants to marry him. During a visit to the massage parlor, he meets Sandy, a very sweet, very young woman to whom he's immediately attracted. Convincing himself he's only trying to help her, he makes up excuses to be with her and suddenly finds himself doing exactly what he believes Beth is doing to him.
Brad Carlin's totally tacky but entirely appropriate set design crowds the tiny Hyde Park stage with four simultaneous settings the massage parlor, a bar, a kitchen, and an interrogation room but Webster doesn't need much space to move his actors. While I often found myself wishing characters seated in the kitchen would actually face each other, I appreciated the fact that Webster had the confidence in his actors to allow them so often just to sit and talk, letting Gilman's script work its own peculiar magic. Webster trusts his actors implicitly, and it's a smart move. A hallmark of the show is a physical stillness that Webster has them employ, and while occasionally it came across as just freezing in place, more often the performers seemed actually to be engaging each other in their silence, and they entirely held my interest. Corey Gagne's Curt is a likeable kind of schlub, confused and lost, but surprisingly assertive and controlling when called upon. While Kelsey Kling might not initially fit your conception of a sex worker, by the end of the evening her Sandy seems the most perfect piece of casting. Both Mical Trejo as Doug and Shannon Grounds as Heather provide consistently entertaining comic moments, and while, compared to the others, Rebecca Robinson doesn't have much stage time, she makes the most of what she does have, hitting multiple levels as Beth. They're an engaging ensemble, and they make these characters' struggles for intimacy and connection seem as real as the too-often strange, too-often frightening, too-often lonely and disconnected life we all are forced to live.