Saturday, February 27, 2010

Frigid ’10: Green Man

What do you get if you mix the pagan archetypes of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with the sexual tension of Clint Eastwood’s The Beguiled? If you keep it under one hour, you have a Frigid production, which is indeed the case with Don Nigro’s Green Man, which recently opened at the Horse Trade Theatre Group’s Red Room as part of the 2010 Festival.

It is winter somewhere deep within a Maryland forest. The exact time is indeterminately vague. A soldier lies delirious in a ramshackle chapel, recovering from wounds suffered while chasing a horse thief. The injured Gavin is nursed and perhaps sexually desired by Fay Robey, the wife of a brutish woodsman, and her headstrong daughter Holly. Periodically, he is also visited by Fay Robey’s old mother-in-law, who might be something of a witch, and the crude old man Robey himself, when he is not out hunting or sharpening his axe for his freelance animal castration business (though that might have been a joke, or a hallucination, or who knows what?).

Perception of reality is deliberately problematic throughout Green Man, but the lingering dread is certainly real (within the context of the play) and consistent throughout. Gavin point-of-view might be suspect, but the audience is still given good reason to suspect Robey’s dodgy business and his wife’s intentions. While it creates a rather unsettling mood rife with portent, particularly in the elder Mrs. Robey’s scenes, some of the stylistic devices (especially the periodic narration that flirts with the fourth wall) can get a bit pretentious. Fortunately, the approximate fifty-five minute running time helps preserve the fever-dream vibe, despite the occasionally overwrought excesses.

Appropriately, Green Man references chess several times, since the strongest elements of the play are the various metaphorical chess matches the uncomprehending Gavin finds himself embroiled in with the Robeys. Indeed, the cast plays with and off each other quite well in these contests of wills, creating some real sparks on stage. As Gavin, Jared Sampson faces a real challenge, having to play a character that is zonked out most of the time, yet is also an active participant in the events going on around him. Though she is stuck with some fairly purple prose for her on-stage voice-overs, Laura Lee Williams is a riveting presence as Holly Robey. Likewise, Elizabeth Erwin is engaging but still properly mysterious as her mother Fay.

Green Man is an intriguing work that greatly benefits from the efforts of its committed cast. It is definitely a work for those whose taste run more towards the abstract and highly stylized. Though it could use some tightening (even at its Frigid approved length), it takes the audience to an interesting place. For the adventurous theater patron, undaunted by snow, it continues during the Frigid Festival (so aptly named these last few days) on Sunday (2/28), Monday (3/1), Friday (3/5), and Saturday (3/6).