Blue Night in the Heart of the West throws a disaffected Scottish immigrant into a land of scamming street thugs, suicidal fathers (spiritual and familial), and incestuous farm families slouching toward the Millennium. James Stock’s play was originally produced in London in 1991 and apparently provided post-Thatcher England with a glimpse of what to expect from a post-Reagan United States.
The play opens in the middle of an Iowa cornfield with action reminiscent of a Mojo Nixon song by way of Sam Shepard. A terrible storm blows through and while the Americans scurry for cover or watch in stupid fascination, Scotsman Andrew MacAlpine, weathering his own storm, takes decisive action. He resolves to leave behind a land with no dignified future for the promise of the West. Being a topiary artist, he brings along his shears in search of hedges. He also brings “Landscaping the Mind,” a whimsically intriguing concept of a book that receives too little attention in what could have been an enlightening examination of the innocent abroad.
Andrew quickly has all hopes and dreams of a better life crushed under the brutal heel of American reality and winds up becoming a fraud himself, part of a dysfunctional family in a dysfunctional land.
One might ask why Open Fist Theatre Company has decided to produce this play at this time. The program states that the action takes place in the present, yet the play’s look and some of the textual references suggest an earlier time, causing it to ring false when it might have been better appreciated set in the context of a post-Cold War, pre-Millennium world. As a comment on the current state of our confused nation, Amanda Weier’s direction does more to make that connection than the writing.
Shawn MacAulay is endearing as the wayward Scot, though the character can be irritatingly passive at times. Benjamin Burdick makes the most of his role as a comically brutal farmer, and Hepburn Jamieson has some nice moments as his unhinged mother. The audience Friday night seemed to appreciate the humor far more than I. Perhaps I was dwelling too much on the socio-political aspects of this play. But after all, that seems to be the reason it exists in the first place.
Blue Night in the Heart of the West plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm through June 21, 2008, with no performance on May 31. The Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90038 $20