REVIEW by Willard Manus

Playwriting, production and acting came together with rare skill when the Geffen Playhouse kicked off its new season with a Fall run of David Eldridge's UNDER THE BLUE SKY. Eldridge, one of Britain's best young playwrights, writes about the difficulties of love, the fears, hangups and bad timing that keep men and women from connecting with one another. To do this without being psychoanalytical, sentimental or just plain silly is no mean feat, but Eldridge has managed it, with a large helping hand from his able collaborators.

Comprised of three separate (but psychically connected) playlets, UNDER THE BLUE SKY deals with a trio of couples in an equal number of settings. All happen to be teachers. In scene one, we meet Nick (McCaleb Burnett) and Helen (Margaret Welsh), who are on staff at what we would call a public high school, though Nick is thinking of taking a better-paying job at a private institution, an act which would put distance between them, both literally and metaphorically. Years before, the two were briefly lovers, but became "just friends" after that. It's obvious, though, that Helen would like to go back to being more intimate. She runs into resistance from Nick, who fears, for a variety of reasons, taking a chance on love again.

The next scene deals with Michelle (Sharon Lawrence) and Graham (Willie Garson), two volatile people whose sexual preferences tend toward the kinky and obsessive. Even though they suit each other, they too can't seem to hook up as a couple. The same holds true for Anne (Judy Geeson) and Robert (John Carroll Lynch) in scene three: they seem kindred souls, but age, shyness and self-doubts conspire to keep them apart.

The resolution of these conflicts is handled efficiently by Eldridge, who writes with tough-minded wisdom and wit throughout. The actors are equally admirable, delivering stand-out performances that will undoubtedly be remembered when prize-time comes around. Gil Cates' sure-handed direction is another plus, as is the work of the play's designers: Tom Buderwitz (sets), Joyce Kim Lee (costumes), Dan Ionazzi (lights) and Jef Bek (sound/original music). This team has put together one of the Geffen's finest productions in many a season.

(The Geffen's revised 2002/2003 season continues with Debbie Allen's PEARL, a contemporary adaptation of Brother Grimms' Snow White (Nov. 12-Dec. 22); Neil Simon's Rose & Walsh (Jan 20-Mar 9, 200s); Rebecca Gilman's Boy Gets Girl (April 1-May 11); and Richard Nelson's Franny's Way, a 50's coming of age story (June 10-July 20). For tickets and information visit or call (310) 208-5454.