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Painted with suspense

 
Ned Averill-Snell, left, plays Latham and Landon Green is Stumpy, two working class painters working to convert a loft for a well-off couple.
Ned Averill-Snell, left, plays Latham and Landon Green is Stumpy, two working class painters working to convert a loft for a well-off couple.
Published May 23, 2017

TAMPA — Sometimes a show comes along that does everything. It engages the senses on every level, tells a story that feels real and keeps you guessing to the end.

Gloucester Blue at Jobsite Theater is such a play. This production, the latest to emerge out of a partnership between producing artistic director David Jenkins (who also directed this show) and the always interesting playwright Israel Horovitz, carefully brings to life a story of human savagery, revealed through layers of deception. It's also darkly funny and contemporary (there's a reference to Donald Trump's hair in the early going), even in musical references by the 78-year-old playwright.

The story unfolds in a New England fishing town with two painters working in a loft. The conversion job, ordered by a well-off couple, means rehabbing a structure that hasn't been touched in decades. Unseen wharf rats make themselves known a time or two, an ominous piece of foreshadowing.

There's a lot about money and class, but those false boundaries disintegrate over the course of the play. Stumpy, the painting contractor, has hired Latham, a longtime acquaintance, to turn the loft around in a short time. The demand is coming from Lexi, whose affair with Stumpy threatens to disrupt everything. The workers quibble over music on the radio (Latham insists on Areosmith) and chat about their shared history, which reveals resentment in Latham. Even before Georgia Mallory Guy's entrance as Lexi, chattering like a piccolo over brooding lower strings, the stage is set for a range of outcomes, none of them good.

The set designed by Brian Smallheer is also changing. The workers cover the walls with white primer, then the bright sea shade, Gloucester blue. Lighting by Ryan Finzelber contributes to a suddenly cleaned up look later on, as the work nears conclusion. A snappy upscale loft begins to emerge, but that only underscores a point Latham has made earlier.

"You can paint over and paint over and cover up and cover up, but what is, is."

None of this works without Ned Averill-Snell's marvelous performance as Latham. All of the characters tell lies, but this Iago reveals the rest as amateurs. Averill-Snell makes masterful use of a dimmer switch of emotions, always with something in reserve. Guy also delivers an eminently fascinating Lexi, whose layers come off one by one. Rounding out the foursome are Landon Green in a straightforward and credible performance as Stumpy, and Drew Smith as Bummy, Lexi's comically unfulfilled blue-blood of a husband. Smith's sustained, incongruous shouting can get a little grating in moments, but he's believable enough as rich boy who would rather be playing professional golf than working in his father's firm.

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Bottom line, the weaknesses here are few and hardly noticeable, especially given that this show has done so many things right.

Contact Andrew Meacham at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.