The blue Martini Review

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Tom Penketh · August 18, 2006

The Blue Martini, a new play by Michael Ferrell, is a rare concoction: a work about 20-something relationships that sips more than it swills, with a wit and charm that leave you with a nice buzz for hours afterward.

The setup: 24-year-old Shelly (Candace Thompson) is a Chicago bar critic with a strong taste for martinis and a cynicism about men and relationships. So Shelly’s best friend, Renee (Emily Vitrano), in an attempt to jump-start Shelly’s love life, meets a cute guy and invites him over to Shelly’s place.

On arrival, Jack (Michael Ferrell) mutters drunkenly and passes out on the floor. Shelly quickly realizes that Jack is a bartender at the Blue Martini, a place she panned in her new column — singling him out. Unfortunately, when Jack wakes in the morning, he finds the soon-to-be-published column.

Martini offers a surprisingly sophisticated view of these characters, each of whom struggles with finding love while tossed about in a sea of conflicting emotions. Though it once or twice teeters toward sitcom conventions, the play always seems to dance away unscathed with a witty line, a touching moment, or a finely played performance.

With a perfectly cast troupe of talented performers, much of what works in Martini is the way the ensemble gels under Jim Wren’s taut direction. Vitrano beautifully transitions her acrobatic slapstick into a moment of emotional conflict. Ferrell’s wry delivery mixed with Thompson’s luminescent smile hidden beneath tousled blond hair creates a palpable chemistry between them before they utter a word to each other. And, in supporting roles, Josh Tyson as Renee’s computer-obsessed boyfriend and John Peery as Shelly’s gay roommate who sells sex toys to housewives invest heart in characters that, in the wrong hands, could have become shrill caricatures.

Played out on Mike Klar’s beautifully functional set, The Blue Martini is an enjoyable evening of theatre.

Anthony Nelson · August 12, 2006

The Blue Martini is a clever, sharp, alcohol-soaked romantic comedy from the North Carolina based Kids With Guns troupe. From the opening scene, liquor permeates the evening, as the first thing we see is Shelly (a strong performance by Candace Thompson) passed out on the floor of her living room after a few too many afternoon cocktails. She is a writer who bills herself as “Chicago’s Most Single Barfly,” as opposed to her roommate, the churchgoing Renee (the perfectly cast Emily Vitrano), who is in a long-term relationship with the nerdy Martin (a funny Josh Tyson). Shelly has just finished a review of a bar called the Blue Martini, which she derides for its cute but predatory bartender.

The plot is set in motion as Renee, feeling Shelly’s drinking has to do with loneliness, flirts with a young man at church and invites him by. When he arrives, he proves not only to be the cute bartender Jack from the bar Shelly has just reviewed, but also dead drunk. He’s played by Michael Ferrell, the writer of the piece. Normally the writer taking a major role is cause for concern, but Ferrell has a nice deadpan sensibility and manages to be very funny. As the play progresses, Martin’s choice to play video games a little too long before he and Renee are supposed to go out sends their relationship into a tail-spin. Meanwhile, Jack wakes up, and he and Shelly begin to wonder whether being single is really the best state for a barfly. There’s also a wise gay roommate (the extremely funny John Peery), who doles out advice and sells some impressive sexual aids.

Under the direction of UNC professor Jim Wren, the cast is excellent, and work well together to keep the jokes landing and the plot moving along. The entire cast is from UNC-Greensboro, and the school should certainly be proud of their alumni’s achievements. Mike Klar’s set and Heather Klar’s costumes both add nice accents to the production. The props are well chosen and very funny, although the actors sometimes tend to treat the alcohol a little casually (I don’t think a lot of people drink martinis made from half Bacardi rum and half vodka).

Ferrell’s script crackles along, although it is a little old-fashioned in places, particularly the ending, which implies that the strong, independent Shelly can only really be happy by finding the right man. That is a minor quibble, though, and the play is thoroughly charming and funny throughout. I look forward to seeing more from the entire company, and Ferrell in particular, in the future.

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