Review: A Shade of Green by Charles S. Waxberg. Directed by Paul O’Connell and Charles S. Waxberg. With Gregory Michaels, Michael Oaks and Terry Edward Moore. Produced by Theatre 9/12 at Trinity Parish Church through February 19, 2012.
Theatre 9/12 has been around for over a decade producing shows with Equity actors on tiny budgets and a lot of heart, winning strong reviews for many of their productions. Their current show, an original play by Charles S. Waxberg has also been attracting a lot of positive attention with high marks in particular for the acting by the trio of actors, as well as sizable audiences to their performance space at First Hill’s Trinity Parish Church Hall.
“A Shade of Green” does have an interesting premise: a convicted serial killer seeks an audience with nervous, suburban, “family man” from his past and basically offers him, “a deal with the devil”. Mr. Waxberg has crafted a play with an unusual plot and some crackling dialogue and it’s well staged despite the limitations of the plot (the convict is shackled to a table) and the small size of the stage by both Mr. Waxberg and co-director Paul O’Connell. And, primarily, the play features three excellent actors who all give exceptionally fine performances. It’s riveting theater and frequently very powerful.
It also features more plot holes than a Venezuelan telenovela. And, it’s almost impossible to discuss the problems with the plot without revealing “spoilers” that could ruin the suspense of seeing this play, so I’m at a bit of a loss how to talk about it. The killer offers his old friend a deal that makes for some exciting plot twists, but it doesn’t offer much in the sense of reality or common sense. What is proposed as part of this deal, would be pretty much instantly rejected by every court in the land and neither a law enforcement agency or a district attorney would fall for it. The entire plot of this play is based on something that could not, or would not ever happen. And, the fact that the central character of the serial killer, who is presented as being a brilliant mastermind, would suggest such an obviously stupid thing, and that the supposedly intelligent old friend he suggests it to doesn’t dismiss it out right, reduces both characters in status and plausibility.
And, while the play has interesting characters and possibilities for an inventive plot, it never recovers from these plot holes which are all presented in the first half of the two act play. Because I enjoyed the dialogue, the set up and the strong acting, I had very much enjoyed the first act, despite my doubts about the plot, and hoped the second act would resolve some of that doubt with clever, twisted plotting. But, Act Two of “A Shade of Green” picks up exactly where Act One ends, and eventually limps to a rather sudden and flaccid conclusion. It never lives up to its potential.
Most of the praise for “A Shade of Green” seems to be focusing on the acting, and rightfully so. All three actors do some excellent work here. Gregory Michaels as the Guard doesn’t have a lot to do and the part is your typical “Asshole Jailhouse Screw” but Mr. Michaels makes him realistic and believable in the circumstances.
But, it’s the convicted killer, Andy Kahn and his old friend, Lyman Conroy that the story centers on as they confront each other in a small interrogation room in a Pennsylvania prison, and both Terry Edward Moore as the killer and Michael Oaks as the patsy excel in a play that’s basically a two hander. They command the stage.
Mr. Moore has seemed to have received the most praise for his work as the sociopathic killer and he deserves to be admired; it’s some strong work. But, it’s not particularly ORIGINAL work…the serial killer with the smug grin has become a theatrical cliche on stage, television and film in recent years, with hundreds of actors playing various versions of the crazed maniac with an arched eyebrow and mocking manner and made famous by Anthony Hopkins’ work as Hannibal Lector in “Silence of the Lambs”. Don’t get me wrong; Mr. Moore does an excellent job of playing this archetype but it’s nothing really new or revelatory. It’s just “fava beans and a nice chianti” in a different package.
Frankly, I was more impressed by Michael Oaks as the nervous family man with a deadly secret. Mr. Oaks is the only non-Equity actor in this production, and he’s probably best known as a comedic sidekick in “Ham for the Holidays” shows at Theatre Off Jackson during the Xmas season so it’s rather surprising and delightful to see him shine in this role. Lyman is a mass of twitchy nerves which obviously balances the deadly calm of the killer but Mr. Oaks is able to center the performance and ground it and make it real. His typical suburbanite dad has some serious flaws and weaknesses, but ultimately the character and the performance outweigh the showier character. It’s just a terrific, nuanced performance and my favorite in this production.
So, it’s basically a mixed bag. Mr. Waxberg is a talented playwright with some interesting ideas but the lack of plausibility does hurt a work that needs to be grounded in it, to be believable and powerful. The dynamic acting is the principle reason to check out “A Shade of Green”.