The novel Am I Blue is a play by Beth Hanley, which studies the life of two individuals who are looking for escape from themselves. It draws together and weaves the lives of various characters, such as John Richard Polk, who is a seventeen year old who drinks in a local bar every evening in the aim of release, and Ashbe who is sixteen year old who looks up to John for protection after petty theft of ashtrays from a local tavern.
The play carefully brings the audience to the attention of these two youths, who are both concerned with doing the best thing for each other, while facing up to similar life troubles. At the start of their relationship, there is a distinct nervousness between them as the gauge each other's personalities, though it is not long before they are easy with each other and the conversation flows. Both characters are quite eccentric and this makes many situations humorous, such as when Ashbe realizes when John is a fraternity member and is about to see a prostitute who she knows. John is at first unwilling to reveal these motives, and he prolongs talk for as long as possible to hide the fact, which is certainly funny to see. It is also clear that each of them are saying what they think the other wants to hear, for instance Jon talking about girls in the fraternity (3), and with Ashbe when she proclaims her love for dancing (10). Neither of them are totally honest with each other, but this seems not to matter as long as they both put in the right effort to stay in communication. Moments of surprise are still evident such as when Ashbe says that there is poison in his drink (14).
When forced to explain his connection with the prostitute, John admits what he likes to treat himself (3). At the end of this dialogue, and with no money to do anything else, Jon accepts the invitation of Ashbe to come with her to her abode. They get to know each other further, and they become more open with each other as they become more familiar.
A revealing conversation comes when Ashbe realizes that today is John's birthday, and that the real reason for him seeing the prostitute, was that his friends set him up for the occasion because the has never had sex before. He also admits that he has never been in love, and that he justifies the prostitute as a rite of passage, and that he does not mind because he thinks he may never find his true love (16).
The discussion between the two characters really becomes interesting when Ashbe speaks of her dreams in dance in exotic and grand ballrooms, with luxurious golden chandeliers and fountains. John's discussion is more personal and sensitive, and he talks of the problem that he never makes his own decisions, and seems only to make decisions based on other people's choices. This strikes a parallel with the main character in The Death of Ivan Ilyich (Tolstoy, 1886), where at the end Ilyich regrets not listening to his heart in life.
The talk of the ballroom reveals the future utopia in the mind of the youth, and the possible career choices shows John' meekness in taking the route he really wants to. John is guided by what is ‘appropriate' over his innate desires.
Both characters talk to each other in a way that warms the heart, though the growing connection between them as the play progresses shows their individual loneliness. The chance meeting between them exposes the fact that they have few people in each of their lives in who they can confide, and to understand them. While often humorous and playful, the play is able by the end to clearly present the void in both of them which is neither directly their own faults, and it is a problem that no amount of divulging can fix.
Beth Henley's style of writing is clean and subtle, and through a simple plot is able to raise some of the most profound questions in life. It also made the relevancy of social drinking and the problems it leads to in modern life apparant.
Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Moscow, 1886.