Atlantic Theater Company
Linda Gross Theater
336 West 20th St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves.
Through January 27, $86.50
Marin Ireland sizzles as a high school English teacher with anger management issues in Abby Rosebrock’s Blue Ridge, which continues through January 27 at the Atlantic’s Linda Gross Theater. Ireland is Alison, a single woman who has been sentenced to six months at St. John’s Service House, a faith-based halfway home in western North Carolina, for having taken an ax to her principal’s car. The facility is run by Pastor Hern (Chris Stack) and his assistant, Grace (Nicole Lewis), who hold daily sessions in which either they or the residents read a Bible passage of their own choosing and then relate it to their life and addiction. Also living at the house is Cherie (Kristolyn Lloyd), another teacher; Wade (Kyle Beltran), a wannabe guitarist and songwriter; and the newly arrived Cole (Peter Mark Kendall), a young man who appears to be a bit addled. Alison has lost her license and been told she will never teach again, but she is determined to get a second chance and has opted for St. John’s because “the Yelp review said, ‘Best in Appalachia.’” Each of the characters has their own problems to solve, and Alison can’t help but get in the middle of most of them, unable to control her passion for what she considers the right thing to do, turning everything upside down as her inner rage threatens to bust out again.
Blue Ridge takes place in a quaint living room with a back window looking out at the woods behind the house, where freedom awaits. (The set design is by Adam Rigg.) Rosebrock (Dido of Idaho, Different Animals) creates well-drawn characters, each with their own touch of mystery, and she avoids being condescending to them, although it occasionally comes close. Cole’s game of “Tree or Stalin,” in which people have to guess an object in a twist on “Twenty Questions” (“Is it bigger than a breadbox?”), is odd and confusing, and one of the main conflicts seems forced, but Obie-winning director Taibi Magar (Is God Is, The Great Leap) wisely keeps the focus on Ireland. You can’t take your eyes off her; she’s constantly making small gestures and scrunching up her malleable face in extraordinary ways, each movement adding insight to her character, and you won’t want to miss a second of it. Ireland, who has won an Obie (Cyclone) and been nominated for a Tony (reasons to be pretty), two Drama Desk Awards (On the Exhale, Ironbound), and an Independent Spirit Award (Glass Chin), is one of New York’s finest actors; she makes anything she’s in worth seeing, and makes it better merely by her glowing presence.