Sometimes a little bit of design can go a long way.
The set that greets us as we enter the Linda Gross Theater at Atlantic Theater Company to see playwright Abby Rosebrock’s “Blue Ridge” is both familiar and dreadful in a way — and perfect for the task. If you find yourself longing for a whiff of stale coffee at the old church hall, then raise your Styrofoam cup to toast designer Adam Rigg’s execution, and pull up one of those clunky folding chairs.
The décor seems “multipurpose room.”
We are in a halfway house, and all the associations apply. Strangers live here. This is shelter and limbo, a way station for permanent problems and temporary solutions. Lives are suspended, literally. There is bravado and vulnerability in constant swirl.
A set of curtains holds back the day, and hints at the North Carolina countryside beyond. The director, Taibi Magar, wisely saves the full view for the final scene, where the freedom of the world outside beckons, but only as an unlikely refuge for the characters who struggle on both sides of the glass.
The personal barriers to productive social behavior are always in focus in this play. These characters live on the edge of conquering their issues. The actors heed the call, and etch deft portraits of dysfunction.
The action centers on Alison (Marin Ireland), a teacher biding her allotted time after an act of rage.
Alison has a problem with her temper. Everyone agrees on that, and her relationships with the staff and her fellow residents tilt into new territory after a mission of mercy backfires.
In a clever twist on “Me Too” dynamics, “Blue Ridge” opens up dilemmas of friendship and personal agency that shake the foundations of all the regulars in the day room. The innocent, the challenged, and the challenger all face a heavy toll. Answers do not come easy here.
And that fits. Alison sets out to confront the demons of our day, and the forces that determine victimhood. She has good reasons to be angry. And with race and desire in the mix — and religion to spice up the brew — Rosebrock stirs “Blue Ridge” carefully, and dishes up a nifty course of payback.
Ireland plays Alison with a mesmerizing case of the jitters — speedy and quirky, and talking a mile a minute. Kristolyn Lloyd, Kyle Beltran and Peter Mark Kendall play her day room cohorts, each with a particular challenge, each one destined for a showdown with Alison. Nicole Lewis and Chris Stack play the host professionals, a duty that also intersects with Alison’s fierce will.
The fireworks, which do come, are stirring enough, although the journey to get there suffers from an early onset of low-wattage exposition. Then again, maybe it’s that veteran sofa, witness to a thousand noontime group sessions. Perhaps an open window might liven up the daily routine.