Keith Reddin’s ALMOST BLUE (Theatre on Fire @ Charlestown Working Theater thru May 18th) should rightly be called ALL BLUE because of a delightfully relentless, ever present character (named Blue) who knows everyone’s business in their run down rooming house—and what a character Kevin Fennessy makes him!
Fennessy sparks every scene he’s in. Blue is in Phil’s room more than Phil is. The brooding ex-con (James Bocock as Phil) doesn’t much care about living anymore so he tolerates this persistent pest of a neighbor. He plays cards with the man just to pass the time. He listens to the man’s elaborate chatter about writing a book on his life. (What life? No one has a life in this fleabag way station.) Sometimes Phil tries to kick him out. Not that Blue complies.
Reddin introduces all the requisite elements of noir (you know: the dame, the crime, the betrayal) but ALMOST BLUE turns out to be more of a cautionary tale: Be careful about lying. It can come back to bite you. The script reminded me of those current, gritty noir films you see on late night television where the prisoner gets out of jail hoping to go straight but he’s pulled back in by his old cell mates. (I think Harvey Keitel stars in all of them.)
Blue and Phil trade stories and nightmares and we’re never sure what’s true and what isn’t but one thing is clear: Blue seems to care genuinely for this tormented man who just wants to go back to prison. When Phil isn’t drunk, he’s beating himself up over the crime he can’t shake.
Reddin gives us scant information to work with so when new characters are introduced, like the seductive wife (Erin Brehm) of Phil’s former prison mate, I kept trying to figure out “why” she came to him. And later, “why” someone didn’t think of getting rid of her scary husband (Adam Siladi) as a solution. I don’t think the story is what really matters in ALMOST BLUE. It’s the characters who make it work and director Brett Marks has a taut ensemble to keep the audience in suspense.