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Call Girl, Bouncer Spar With Beale in ‘Bluebird’: Jeremy Gerard

Simon Russell Beale and Charlotte Parry in
Simon Russell Beale and Charlotte Parry in "Bluebird" in New York. The play is directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch. Photographer: Kevin Thomas Garcia/Boneau/Bryan-Brown via Bloomberg

Aug. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Jimmy MacNeill was a successful novelist and drunk when, five years ago, his young daughter was run over and killed.

Now he’s a London cabbie, quietly abiding the stories and bits of wisdom proffered by his late-night fares. Played with supremely self-confident understatement by Simon Russell Beale, Jimmy is easy to warm to and wholly unbelievable, not a character but a young playwright’s construct.

Simon Stephens was 26 when he wrote “Bluebird,” which is being given its U.S. premiere at the Atlantic Theater Company’s tiny Stage 2 in Chelsea. He went on to become one of the U.K.’s most acclaimed dramatists. In the 1997 “Bluebird,” we can hear a distinctive playwright’s voice still in formation, in a drama shaped not by plot but by a series of monologues leading to the Big Reveal.

Russell Beale, whose gifts for nuance and the small gesture have served him well in shows as disparate as “Spamalot” and “Hamlet,” has made the Atlantic run one of the toughest tickets in town. He’s surrounded by a wonderful cast who sell the inevitable apercus and aphorisms with conviction.

“The main distinguishing factor of the aging process is the overwhelming sense of regret,” says Michael Countryman, playing a man who hails the cab after seeing his child’s murderer released from prison early for good behavior.

Word Mangling

“Do you believe in the intransience of love?” asks Todd Weeks, in one of the more unfortunate bits. “What about the communicability of the human spirit?” Is there a play doctor in the house?

And yet empathy shines through. Standouts among the other passengers are Charlotte Parry as a prostitute en route to an assignation and John Sharian as a seen-it-all night club bouncer. Best of the company is Atlantic veteran Mary McCann as Jimmy’s estranged wife, Clare, matching his sad survivor with her own hard-won liberation from a ruined past.

Set designer Rachel Hauck makes the postage-stamp stage seem spacious, with just a few chairs and a pay phone at the rear, lit in shadow by Ben Stanton. Director Gaye Taylor Upchurch seems a little too fond of those chairs, calling for busyness between scenes when stillness would do. That’s a lesson she could learn from her star.

Through Sept. 9 at 330 W. 16th St. Information: +1-212-645-1242; http://www.atlantictheater.org. Rating: **


What the Stars Mean:
****        Do Not Miss
***         Excellent
**          Good
*           So-So
(No stars)  Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is an editor and critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this column: Jeremy Gerard in New York at jgerard2@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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