The set of Ran Xia’s In Blue at The Tank is wistful, antique. A string suspended from the ceiling holds sparse, bare lightbulbs and letters above the stage and the audience’s heads. Canvases and oriental rugs are strewn about, and in one corner sits a table with a vase of sunflowers. The opposite side of the stage is simpler — another table is sandwiched between two mismatched wooden chairs, and atop it lays a woven tablecloth.
Both spaces exude chaos, but when coupled with Luke Santy’s soft, melancholy cello playing, a strong sense of nostalgia emerges, too, in their rusticness. Simply put, the whole thing looks and feels like a hipster Brooklyn cafe. But In Blue is set in the mid-1900s, a time before hipster Brooklyn cafes, so naturally, it’s actually an art studio. It’s the site where we see the friendship of artist Franz Marc (Finn Kilgore) and poet Else Lasker-Schüler (Alyssa Simon) blossom and eventually fade.
The play is a fantastical, whimsical journey through these creators’ minds, grounded in things that bring them together. Horses are at its center — concretely as the subject of Lasker-Schüler’s poetry and Marc’s paintings, including the now-famously-lost “The Tower of Blue Horses,” and abstractly as symbols of Marc’s inner psyche (the best way I can describe it is to refer you to Natasha Bedingfield’s “Wild Horses,” same sentiment applies). So is the color blue, representative of norm-breaking (because who says a horse can’t be blue) and vibrancy and melancholy, too. So are postcards, of which Marc sent Lasker-Schüler 28, depicting his artwork. That said, in the course of In Blue’s high-flying journey, it chooses to leave a coherent, clear plot behind. It is often unclear how the friends’ musings about the perfect shade of blue or the meaning behind horses all string together. The show is certainly meant to be abstract and far-flung, but without the help of intricate sets or effects, it’s not the most conducive framework for audience comprehension.
Whatever the characters say, though, it sounds lovely. In the opening scene, Kilgore is instantly captivating when he launches into a story of a witch — not an evil one, as “very rarely witches are,” but a benevolent one. She meets an angel, who grants her one wish: to become — can you guess? — a horse. (It’s better when he tells it.) All the dialogue is poetic; Simon especially, as the poet, has a way of making even the most mundane of sentences ethereal. And it’s not without its humor: “Humans are ugly. Especially the adults — we’re quarrelsome and petty” is one of my personal favorite (and one of Marc’s best) lines. Lasker-Schüler’s take on classical mythology is a close second: “Secret affair, unprotected sex, kid out of wedlock — what else is new with the Greeks?”
All in all, In Blue is a poetic vision washed in blue light. The show is most worth seeing for the aesthetic, if you want to lose your thoughts in an idyllic, artsy world for 90 minutes. If nothing else, it might make you want to call up an old friend, or perhaps send them a postcard, and have your own deep chat about life in a hipster Brooklyn cafe.