Most of us find flying a tedious chore these days, so you can imagine how flight attendants feel. In Marisa Wegrzyn’s bittersweet comedy, three female flight attendants reunite at a bland airport hotel near Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Rather than the clear blue sky flown by “stewardesses” of the past, their humorous and poignant reminiscences emanate from a Mud Blue Sky.
In a very funny opening silent soliloquy, first-rate Jamie Jones (Gidion’s Knot, A Delicate Balance) as Beth, an aging and exhausted flight attendant, slowly takes off her painful shoes and cases her numbingly beige hotel room like a pro. After all, someone could be hiding under the bed. She’s seen it all. So she washes her hands several times in the opening few minutes.
While tending to her aching back, her flighty (pun intended) co-worker, single parent Sam (well-acted by Rebecca Dines), enters and tries unsuccessfully to entice Beth to join her and former attendant Angie to go bar-hopping. Unfortunately, divorced Angie (skillful Laura Jane Bailey) has been fired for being overweight; she now tends to her invalid mother near Chicago. And her dog just died, too. Angie is a walking cautionary tale.
But Beth’s beastly back pain mandates an illicit remedy, and we find her behind the hotel with Jonathan, a shy tuxedoed high school senior and part-time pot dealer. Talented newcomer Devin S. O’Brien displays the youthful slight stammer and hunched shoulders perfectly.
When Sam, Angie, Beth and Jonathan convene in the anonymous hotel room, we are entertained by the attendants’ air-warrior stories of airline cutbacks and receding retirement packages, rude and gross passengers, overly solicitous TSA agents and Cinnabons.
Playwright Marisa Wegrzyn’s mother was a flight attendant, and the stories have an authentic resonance. The early repartee and stories have an almost sit-com patter, perhaps because Wegrzyn wrote for TV’s The Mentalist as well as veteran director Tom Ross’ ability to keep the timing just right.
One of the appealing and unusual aspects of the play is the companionable relationship between childless Beth and motherless Jonathan. Although not terribly maternal, Beth is interested in Jonathan, and he is seeking connection. Facing a difficult crossroad in his life, Jonathan could benefit from help from Beth and the other world-weary attendants. But they seem unable to be of much help. Beth realizes that suggestions from the older generation turn out to be merely a “speakeasy of selfish regret.”
Although Mud Blue Sky is a one-act play, a mood shift seems to signal a second act. As the evening wears on, the atmosphere gradually darkens, and, as they drink $400 cognac, the characters reveal more of their inner selves — full of uncertainty, conflict and guilt. Sam worries that her job leaves her little time with her 17-year-old son. Beth contemplates retirement, but lacks any concrete plans for her future. Angie tells the secret of her acquisition of the $400 cognac, a powerful story I am still trying to understand fully.
Mud Blue Sky is an entertaining evening at the theatre and works well on the Aurora’s small stage. The well-directed, roughly one and one-half hour, production flies by. But, are we seeing a slice of the characters’ lives or have they been transformed by their night together? It could be a bit of each.
Mud Blue Sky runs through September 27. For information, extended performance dates and tickets, visit the Aurora Theatre online.
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