"Am I Blue" Play Overview

A One-Act Play by Beth Henley

male female rehearsing
Try "Am I Blue" for acting material for one male and one female. Hill Street Studios

There’s a lot to admire about Beth Henley’s 1972 one-act, Am I Blue. First of all, dramatic works for teenage thespians are in short supply — especially plays that aren’t too preachy. Am I Blue provides juicy roles for a young actor and actress, despite a few flaws typical of this genre.

Overview

Am I Blue begins in a New Orleans bar. John Polk, 17, sips a drink while he waits for midnight to arrive.

At the stroke of twelve, he will officially turn 18. Yet, despite the fact that his college buddies have given him a very special gift (an appointment with a prostitute) he’s lonely and dissatisfied with his life.

Ashbe, a strange 16-year-old girl, enters the bar, fresh from stealing ashtrays. She hides under John’s raincoat, fearing that the angry innkeeper from next door will come chasing after his stolen goods.

At first, John wants nothing to do with this weird girl. But he discovers that she’s very street-smart. Ashbe knows that John plans to visit a brothel at midnight. As their conversation continues, each character confesses a great deal in a short amount of time:

What John Reveals

  • He is a member of a fraternity, but he doesn’t have true friends.
  • His father expects him to become a soy farmer and attend business school.
  • His unfulfilling future prompts him to drink excessively.
  • He’s a virgin who wants to “face his fears” by sleeping with a prostitute.

    What Ashbe Reveals

    • She sees herself as Robin Hood – doing little illegal things to help out others.
    • She doesn’t have many friends (and practices Voodoo on her enemies).
    • She likes to dance but dislikes school dances.
    • Her parents are divorced; she lives with her father while her sister and mother live out of state.

      The dialogue in Am I Blue is fast-paced and honest. Ashbe and John Polk’s evening goes down exactly the way two awkward teenagers would conduct an evening on their own. They color paper hats, talk about drinking and whores, eat marshmallows, listen to shells, and talk about voodoo. The action strikes a real balance between the adult and childish world teenagers are stuck between. Ashbe and John Polk end the play dancing close together to Billie Holliday’s “Am I Blue.”

      What Works in This Play

      Am I Blue is set in 1968, but there’s nothing that overtly dates this play. Henley’s one-act could take place in just about any decade. (Well, maybe not during Ancient Egypt – that would be silly, and they didn’t have ashtrays back then.) This timelessness adds to the appeal of the characters and their quiet angst.

      John’s character is a low-key and relatively easy vehicle for a “college-age” actor. Ashbe’s character embodies creativity, voyeuristic tendencies, and a latent vitality for life that is waiting for a chance to prove itself. Teenage actresses could go in many directions with this character, switching from whimsical to dead-serious in a single beat.

      What Doesn't Work?

      The play’s main flaw is one found in most one-act dramas.

      The characters reveal their innermost secrets much too quickly. John begins as a tight-lipped frat boy on his way to lose his virginity in a "cathouse." By the end of the play, he has morphed into a romantic, sweet-talking young-minister wannabe, all in a manner of fifteen minutes.

      Of course, transformation is the nature of theater, and one-acts by definition are brief. However, an excellent drama not only presents fascinating characters but also allows those characters to reveal themselves in a natural way.

      It should be noted that this often-anthologized one-act was the debut of Beth Henley’s playwriting career. She wrote it while attending college, marking a very promising beginning for a young writer. Seven years later she won the Pulitzer Prize for her full-length play, Crimes of the Heart.

       Dramatists Play Service holds the rights for Am I Blue.