Blue/Orange is an unnerving, provocative look at the blurred boundaries between madness and sanity. It is also a compelling exploration of the way that misguided perceptions can trump – and thus become – the truth. The play has won numerous awards, including the London Critics’ Circle Theatre Award and the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play. In Theatre Kingston’s current production of Blue/Orange, director Alain Dilworth (Crash, If We Were Birds, The Middle Place) gives a fresh new voice to Joe Penhall’s seminal work, as do the performances of renowned English actor Nigel Bennett, talented Kingstonian William Matthews, and bright Toronto newcomer, Ayinde Blake.
This dramatic story begins with a black psychiatric patient named Christopher (Blake), who appears to have borderline personality disorder, on the eve of his release. Christopher’s young primary doctor, Bruce (Matthews), is hesitant to let him go after only a month of treatment and concerns about misdiagnosis. Bruce’s supervising consultant and veteran medical professional, Robert (Bennett), however, is more than ready to see the troubled Christopher leave – especially if it means gaining an additional bed at the hospital for more unstable wards. What follows is a dark, quick-witted battle of wills that brings into question the practices of public health and its intersections with the institutionalization of racism, the politics of mental illness, and the infectious power of doubt.
The energetic, almost breathless pace of dialogue in Blue/Orange is important because it establishes an unnerving sense of momentum within the narrative. The set design is simple but impeccable: everything unfolds in a small, clinical room with white walls and a table topped by the play’s namesake, a contentious bowl of oranges. Together, the dialogue and visuals create an apt mise-en-scène that bolsters the ironic search to restore lucidity in an environment which accelerates its loss.
I was impressed by the way this production offers the audience a chance to develop complicated, shifting impressions of each member in the ensemble. There is something necessarily experiential, visceral, and immediate about that opportunity which is unique to live theatre, and in Blue/Orange, it was successfully affirmed by one jarring moment after another. We are presented with characters that are dynamic, unexpected, and emotionally flawed, making the possibility of redemption (or recovery) unclear; they are characters whose actions and outbursts, like the play itself, leave us with more questions than answers.
Blue/Orange runs until February 16 at the Baby Grand, 218 Princess St. Five evening performances and one weekend matinee show remain. Tickets available here.