Big Sky Review - It Really is Falling

Pulitzer Prize finalist playwright Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros and Tony Award winner/director John Rando make a mean combination, readily obvious in their collaboration on BIG SKY. Recipient of the Edgerton Foundation New Play Award, BIG SKY is a very funny and yet very sad tale about a man who finds himself unemployed after years in corporate America and its impact on his family. The message is timely and gripping: landing a decent job during the current slippery economy is no mean feat. The ramifications of failure to the seeker and his family would be too painful to enumerate.

Jon Tenney and Jennifer Westfeldt - Photo by Darret Sanders

Jack has taken his wife, daughter, and a family friend to Aspen, Colorado – but not to enjoy the breath-taking scenery or the ski slopes. Jack (John Tenney) has been invited by a potential corporate employer to sample the benefits of wealth and privilege in a private Ritz-Carlton condo while interviewing with the Board members and the CEO. Unfortunately, Jack’s frantic, extended search for employment has taken up almost all of his time and energy – and his relationships with his wife Jen (Jennifer Westfeldt) and daughter Tessa (Emily Robinson) have suffered.

Emily Robinson and Arnie Burton - Photo by Darret Sanders

Most certainly, the glow has evaporated from Jack’s sex life as Jen seems to have lost all interest.  Jack begins to wonder if “marriage was a good idea when life expectancy was lower.” For the last few years, Jen has been volunteering for a number of charities after she grew tired of working as an interior decorator.  As it turns out, there may have been more attractions to this choice than are readily obvious. Meanwhile, 17-year-old daughter Tessa’s interests have strayed far from family expectations. She has taken up with the mature Native American porter in the building which houses her family’s apartment – and now she fancies herself in love and has begun to identify with a number of ancient Indian traditions. Her lover’s name is, you guessed it, “Big Sky.”

Jon Tenney and Arnie Burton - Photo by Darret Sanders

Right at the center of all the accompanying drama is Jonathan (Arnie Burton), the family’s close and very gay friend who really doesn’t want to hear it. But of course he does – accompanied by a little pot and a lot of hilarious lines. Will all of these disparate elements eventually come together and help the family dynamic weather this storm? You’ll have to see BIG SKY to find out.

Arnie Burton, Emily Robinson, Jennifer Westfeldt, and Jon Tenney - Photo by Darret Sanders

Skilled director John Rando has accomplished several important goals in BIG SKY. He has created a truly interesting family in the clutches of danger – and he has done it with humor and insight. Of course, let’s not forget the powerful writing of author Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros. The talented cast is strong, with special kudos to the male contingent. Scenic designer Derek McLane has does a brilliant job of letting us share the luxury of a Ritz-Carlton accommodation, snow-capped mountains and all. But McLane outdoes himself when he builds light snow flurries into a genuine hell-bent blizzard in all its fury. Jaymi Lee Smith’s lighting and Jon Gottlieb’s sound add to the sturm and drang of both the internal and external storms taking place. The production team has done an excellent job of conveying an environment which alters with and supports BIG SKY’s dramatic actions.  Perhaps the end point remains a bit vague.

Emily Robinson, Jennifer Westfeldt, Arnie Burton, and Jon Tenney - Photo by Darret Sanders

BIG SKY runs through July 17, 2016, with performances at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays to Fridays, at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays. The Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse is located at 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024. Tickets range from $32 to $82. For information and reservations, call 310-208-5454 or go online at www.geffenplayhouse.org.

 

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