BLUE/ORANGE, Northlight Theatre. In his Olivier Award-winning play, Joe Penhall twists seemingly harmless remarks into wounding barbs. As in a Mamet script, the characters twirl around like bath toys on a sea of ambiguity, bobbing into an undertow of unspoken agendas and deliberate misunderstandings.
Chris is a young man of African descent who's been committed to a London psychiatric hospital for a 28-day assessment. It's 24 hours before checkout. He's ebullient, manic. He wants out. The people here are nuts. Consulting physician Robert Smith (B.J. Jones) must sign off on Chris's release--a mere formality. But young doctor Bruce Flaherty (David Matthew Warren) fights to hospitalize Chris for another six months--an unpardonable challenge to his superior's authority. This is the first volley in a war of workplace politics. The white psychiatrists' medical opinions are influenced by their professional ambitions and by their views on how to deal with blacks: Drug them into submission? Or leave them to the streets? In the meantime the doctors themselves are being manipulated by their patient.
Jones plays Dr. Smith with all the pomposity of his Lost in Space namesake. But it's the malleable Chris who gives dimension to this battle of wills. Tarell Alvin McCraney is vibrant and believable in the part, getting the Afro-cockney accent just right. Because the audience doesn't know what to make of Chris, the doctors' certainty appears all the more sinister.