|Address:||1415 Fifth Avenue
San Rafael, CA 94901
Bluff at The Belrose
Review by Judith M. Wilson
Some people can bluff their way through almost anything, but it’s nearly inevitable that they’ll get caught. Such is the case in Bluff, Jeffrey Sweet’s dark comedy about the unraveling of a young woman’s self-deception, as she is forced to face the unintended consequences her behavior has caused and the damage it could do in the future.
Currently on stage at the Belrose Theatre in San Rafael, the play, from JoLee Productions of Mill Valley, opens with a potential hook-up that never goes anywhere, when an accident nearby claims the attention of Neal, one of the would-be lovers. His kindness attracts the attention of another woman, Emily, and soon, they’re cohabiting and enjoying life in New York City. When Emily’s stepfather Gene visits while on a business trip, however, everything changes, and the veneer on Emily’s carefully constructed image begins to crack.
Will Livingston portrays Neal as a decent young man with a promising future, and at first, he welcomes Gene. The more time he spends with him, however, the more objectional he finds him, and he tries to resist engaging with him. Eventually, though, he finds himself in a position where he has no alternative but to listen and face a situation he can’t control. Isabelle Grimm plays Emily, and she goes from being initially happy in her life with Neal to being manipulative and tormented by the reality of her life and her inability to successfully carry on the bluff.
Cam Stuckey stands out as Gene, the stepfather, whose insistence on revealing Emily’s weaknesses is the catalyst for the direction the story takes. He does an artful job of creating a well-rounded character with rough edges, who gradually reveals the challenges he’s had to face and the resulting disappointments.
Doubling actress Anya Cherniss is animated as Neal’s intended hook-up, and she also plays an actress who crosses the line from drama to real life, when she initiates a conversation with the director. At times, the actors interact with members of the audience, and the Belrose Theatre’s intimate setting works well in blurring the distinction between actors and audience, at times challenging the latter’s suspension of disbelief.
Joe Hoeber directs, with Dianne Harrison as co-director, and they make the most of the play, which forgoes “production frou-frou,” by keeping the small set simple and putting the spotlight on the characters. Hoeber also does set and property design, while Harrison does double duty by taking on the role of stage director.
What the audience is to make of the characters in the final analysis is open to interpretation, and that gives them something to think about, as they contemplate what’s real and what’s a bluff, and whether it’s even possible to tell the difference.
Bluff plays through Saturday, November 16, at the Belrose Theatre, 1415 Fifth Avenue, San Rafael.
Tickets are available at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4345503 or with cash at the door.