Could a feeling send a jolt through the fabric of time and space and make the universe shiver? And is the material that weaves our past, present and future merely and illusion?
Rebecca Bossen’s new play Blue Straggler uses such questions as a launching pad for her romantic and scientific exploration of what binds two people together from this island earth into infinity.
Part of this summer’s Source Festival, Blue Straggler is the full length play in the “Science and Soul Mates” series and that subtitle could be used for this play all by itself. Who would have thought the intermingling of astrophysics and a volatile romance could be so engaging, sexy, and poignant?
If opposites really do attract, Lisa and Clarissa were bound to end up together. The reserved, workaholic and brilliant doctoral candidate Lisa keeps getting distracted from finishing her dissertation. Her chance encounter with Clarissa, a sensual, free-spirited chocolatier, rocks Lisa’s orderly, academic world.
It’s not giving away too much that Clarissa is taken away from Lisa, dead and buried, soon after they meet. If that sounds reasonably tame, Bossen has many surprises in store for the couple (and the audience), and her telling of their connection that defies the cosmos is riveting. The playwright skillfully allows the story to reveal itself, from Lisa and Clarissa’s passionate relationship to the adventure that stretches to the very edge of space, incorporating multiverse theory among other heady ideas.
Don’t get me wrong: you do not have to be an astrophysicist to appreciate this love story. Don’t know what a blue straggler is? I didn’t either. Bossen takes care explaining what that is and incorporates scientific jargon but does not allow it to bog down the story of two human hearts connected in a profound way.
Lisa, played with vulnerable complexity by Jenny Donovan, shows the balance between a keen and determined scientific mind and a woman whose heart has been touched and desperately needs to heal. Many of her lines include scientific theory and mathematical equations but she pulls them off like an MIT professor. When she begins to crack the code that may help her to reconnect with Clarissa, her laser sharp focus is a force to contend with.
Playing her inamorata, Heidi Fortune makes Clarissa’s emotional highs and lows believable, and conveys her trip from the physical world to the ethereal plane easily. Unlike Lisa’s reserve, Clarissa is an open book of desires and impulses and Fortune wears them for all to see. As I watched Donovan and Fortune portray star-crossing (not to say star-crossed) lovers, I was struck by how convincing they were, and believed each one of them would go to any lengths to be together again, no matter what the cost.
Another convincing relationship was between Lisa and her mother May, played by the very funny and touching Sarah Holt. May arrives to check on Lisa and spur her on to finish her dissertation, unaware of her relationship with Clarissa. What starts out as the usual motherly nagging and questioning falls away to reveal a deeper connection.
Rounding out the cast in a memorable turn is Luke Cieslewicz as Ragged, a celestial host and gatekeeper with whom Clarissa bonds and finds a reluctant ally. As his name suggests, Ragged is dressed in a stylish patchwork suit – part of the imaginative costume designs by Katie Touart – but the name comes from his unseen superiors running him ragged as a gofer who has the run of the entire universe as his workspace. Ragged, like the Stage Manager in Our Town, also serves to show Clarissa how things are without her in the earthly plane, back in “human standard time,” as he calls it. Like the other characters in Blue Straggler, Ragged is complex and his journey is no less of a bumpy ride than the other’s.
2 hours with 1 intermission
Festival dates: June 5 – 28
1835 14th Street, NW
Tickets: $10 – $32
Details and Tickets or call 866.811.4111
Amazingly, there are more characters worth mentioning, let’s call them “the management,” in other words Ragged’s bosses in the universe. We never see them but feel and hear their presence throughout the time and space bending travels Clarissa shares with Ragged. Creatively realized through sound and lighting, these sentinels (think ominous sound wave) allow the audience to know when the universe gets worried that Lisa will solve the equation that could be catastrophic.
Director Patrick Pearson keeps the pacing swift and the focus steady by staging the piece with a central playing area and the audience on two sides, allowing for rapid changes and quick entrances and exits. The entire playing space with simple designs by Robbie Hayes are enhanced by dynamic projections designed by Ryan Smith. The entire design concept embraces the idea that the story stretches to the edges of infinity yet retains the intimacy inherent in making the story resonate fully. Gordon Nimmo-Smith’s sound design, as mentioned before, is also essential to the production.
With this exciting new play, Rebecca Bossen connects the dots of science, love, the afterlife and the human condition in ways I did not see coming and the results feed the mind and tug at the heart, a winning equation, if you ask me.
Blue Straggler by Rebecca Bossen . Directed by Patrick Pearson. Featuring Jenny Donovan, Heidi Fortune, Sarah Holt, Luke Cieslewicz. Set Designer: Robbie Hayes . Lighting Designer: Nate Collard . Costume Designer: Katie Touart . Sound Designer: Gordon Nimmo-Smith . Prop Design: Britney Mongold . Projection Design: Ryan Smith . Dramaturgy: Fareed Mostoufi . Stage Manager: Sharon Achtenberg . Rehearsal Stage Manager: Tori Ujczo .
The 2015 Source Festival is produced by CulturalDC. Source Festival Artistic Director: Jenny McConnell Frederick. Reviewed by Jeff Walker.