WILLIAMSTOWN -- At its heart, Lucy Boyle's "The Blue Deep" is the story of a contemptuous mother-daughter relationship that is rearing its head following the death of the family patriarch. Yet on its surface, it's a tale of two grief-stricken women trying to reconcile their individual loss without the interference of the other.
"The Blue Deep," which runs on the Williamstown Theatre Festival's Nikos Stage through Sunday, marks the return of Blythe Danner to the festival following a 12-year absence from its stage.
Set in the seaside village of Sag Harbor in the Hamptons, the play begins with the arrival of Lila (Heather Lind), the 20-something daughter of Grace (Danner), a gallery owner who lives life at a break-neck pace, splitting her time between work, gardening and "poolates" -- a form of pilates performed in the pool. Neither one is happy to see the other, but their unhappy arrival is cut short by the arrival of family friends Roberta (Becky Ann Baker) and Charlie (Jack Gilpin).
While Lila tries desperately to hold onto the memory of her father by returning to the family vacation house, Grace is busy avoiding the absence of her husband and it is apparent her daughter's homecoming is interrupting her schedule of distraction, which includes Roberta and Charlie. Lila, meanwhile, befriends a local gardener, Jamie (Finn Wittrock).
It is only a matter of time before the unspoken tension between Grace and Lila boils
For Grace, Lila's return and public grieving reopens a wound -- she has always resented the bond between her daughter and husband. In turn, Lila has always found her mother to be cold and critical -- reprimanding her for her poor decisions, which range from carrying her belongings on a plane in plastic market bags to her career and boyfriend. She detests her mother, but like most daughters, she is more like her mother than she cares to be.
The problematic piece of the play doesn't reside in the acting or even in the fact that the time or cause of the husband's death is a mystery. The problem resides in the fact that the play is about two things -- a contemptuous relationship and individual grief -- which seem to ebb and flow throughout the production, but never come together to find a common ground.
That aside, there are numerous reasons to see this play: the performances of its cast members and its gorgeous set by designers Andrew Boyce and Takeshi Kata.
Under the direction of Bob Balaban, Danner brings the impatient Grace to life. Her voice strains at all the right moments, allowing the audience to experience Grace's exasperation, grief and loneliness along with her. Meanwhile, Lind accomplishes the task of presenting Lila in a similar context, but with an air of youth and freshness that has long since escaped her mother's grasp.
Baker and Gilpin, as Roberta and Charlie, the carefree family friends, are a blessing throughout the production, as they lighten the mood with their performances providing the necessary comic relief during a play that can be as moody and temperamental as its main characters. Baker is a delight to watch, as she dances through each scene -- the perfect foil for Danner's Grace.
Wittrock is a fresh breath of air each time he appears on stage, whether he's using a chain saw to remove a felled tree from the yard or drunkenly singing the theme song to "Ghostbusters" at pool side. This talented Berkshirite brings a pound of joy and calmness to the stage with his character, for every ounce of despair and grief that Lind's character breathes.
What: Williamstown Theatre Festival's ‘The Blue Deep'
When: Runs through Sunday. Running time is roughly 2 hours with a 10-minute intermission.
Where: The Nikos Stage at the ‘62 Center for Theatre and Dance on the Williams College campus
Tickets: $45. Tickets can be purchased at the box office, by calling 413-597-3400 or online at www.wtfestival.org.