Circuit's Blue needs all the help it can get; Playwrights' Forum needs a screwdriver.

Charles Randolph-Wright must have named his family drama Blue because that is the color of one's fanny after sitting through two-and-a-half hours of predictable melodrama. Though the Circuit Playhouse production, under the capable direction of Anastasia Herin, is well acted and occasionally funny, there's just not much to it.

Set in a fictional South Carolina town, Blue tells the story of an African-American family torn between their successful funeral home and a battery of unfulfilled ambitions. Eventually, uncomfortable truths will be told and difficult decisions will be made. Sadly, everyone in the audience will have guessed the outcome 20 minutes before the end of act one.

Richard D. Jones is an actor with a lot of charisma. He's easy to watch and easier to like, and his portrayal of Reuben Clark, a young musician who just doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of his family, keeps Blue entertaining, even when the facile story becomes too painfully obvious to watch.

In fact, all the actors bring something interesting to the table. Doris Norris is, at times, hysterical as Tilly Clark, the sassy family matriarch who isn't afraid to use the "f"-word. Monette McLin is appropriately obnoxious as Reuben's materialistic mother, Peggy, who is obsessed with a jazz singer named Blue Williams. Lakesha D. Glover nails the character of LaTonya, a sweet country girl with big-city ambitions, and Dion L. Moffett is quite good as the reluctant heir to the family business. But all the fine performances add up to nothing of consequence. The story is one too often told. The mystery is no mystery at all, and the feel-good ending undermines what could have at least been a classic family tragedy. And then there is all the lip-synching. Yes, lip-synching. It's almost too much to bear.

Peggy Clark was once a top fashion model before marrying Samuel Clark Jr., a successful businessman whose ordinary love was never quite enough to satisfy someone with such rarified tastes. Thank goodness she could drown her disappointment in furs, fancy clothes, fine furniture, and exotic cuisine. She has put up with her bland husband, endured his mother's sharp tongue, and pinned all her hopes and dreams on her youngest son, Reuben. Reuben is special because he's an artist like Blue Williams. In fact, Reuben may be just a little too much like Blue Williams, if you catch my drift.

Each scene ends with Marcus Cox sauntering on stage as a ghostly Blue Williams. He points to the various characters and sings -- or rather pretends to sing to them. It's a cringe-inducing device that does nothing but make the play much too long.

Blue is neither musical nor drama, comedy nor tragedy. It is a mishmash of styles and worn-out plot devices. But if you're the kind of person who likes figuring out how a story ends before the curtain falls, this may be the play for you.

Through April 4th

Screw Job

Best performance by a set goes to (drum roll, please): Playwrights' Forum's production of The Man Who Only Wanted a Screwdriver. Rube Goldberg would be proud. Unfortunately, the new script suffers from being too much of a good thing. Drawing inspiration from such theatrical innovators as Beckett, Brecht, and Meyerhold, as well as from classic fairy tales, it plays extremely well -- for about half an hour. The script is painfully overwritten, with two-and-a-half hours of redundant dialogue and slapstick.

Set in Soviet Russia, Screwdriver is about a poor factory worker who believes that the whole world could be made better if only he had a more efficient screwdriver. He writes directly to the premier, who eventually hand-delivers the scientifically improved tool. The factory worker becomes an instant celebrity, known far and wide for his extraordinary letter-writing skills. Now everyone wants to be his friend. They want him to write to the premier on their behalf, asking for the fulfillment of their hearts' desires. It is the story of the magic fish given dark political overtones.

Director Marler Stone infuses the production with plenty of physical comedy, but many of the actors in this show are young and have yet to develop the kind of clown skills the roles require.

Through March 13th at TheatreWorks

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