Green may be the hue of jealousy's monster, but in Jim Knable's play Green Man, the color is more the irresistible persistence of memory, of clinging to something long gone as a way of not truly dealing with it. Oh, the green is also the green paint applied head to toe—including the junk—of one of the characters in this tight, four-character play, one that is both deceptively subtle as well as telegraphed.
Its subtlety lies not only in Knable's words, but also—and just as important—in the spaces between those words. Character and motivations are mostly revealed through the unspoken, giving what is a fairly standard domestic drama of a failing marriage a great deal of texture and nuance. Each of the main characters has created an imaginary presence to deal with something stripped from him or her, and in its best moments, Knable's play is a skillful crafting of the elaborate steps we take to not deal with loss. However, its obviousness—such as the main plot reveal, which comes in an information dump at the end—prevents the piece from feeling fully realized. The true nature of the main man in green (he plays three characters) is well-established early on, and by the time the audience is clearly told what he represents, there's a saw-that-coming feel to it. For a play that so skillfully toys with the line between artifice and realism, the lack of something genuinely surprising at the end feels too easy.
But it's an interesting journey, one given life by fine performances elicited by director Jeremy Lewis. Abigail (a multilayered, feisty Miriam Ani) is a struggling painter whose need for constant medication suggests she's dealing with far more than creative blockage. The play begins with her attempting to paint a model (a very talented Miguel Castellano) posing as a green gargoyle. But the model proves to be a bit difficult to handle, and when Abigail's architect husband, Ronald (Chris Hayhurst), unexpectedly shows up, our Green Man jumps through an open window, apparently falling to his death. However, after Ronald leaves, Greenie walks back into the apartment, calmly grabs the canvas, and then leaps out again.
That is the first indicator that not all is as it seems. When the green man reappears two more times—as a young intern of Donald's and as the lover of a sculptress, Genice (an effective Janelle Kester), commissioned by Donald to create a gargoyle for a building he's designing—we see that everyone's imaginations are more than a little amped-up. They've created a three-dimensional hallucination to help deal with a staggering loss, and their reliance on these concocted beings provides a buffer that keeps them from confronting an apparently dissolving marriage.
While Abigail's hallucination makes a weird kind of sense, the others' don't. She's clearly coping with some kind of mental illness, and it seems believable that a visual artist who has endured such a painful loss would see things that aren't really there. But the other characters seem unhappy and drifting, and their hallucinations feel forced, even convenient. That's particularly true for Donald, who has created a younger version of himself that he can bond with over memories of being single and free. Whereas the other two desperately need their pretend friends to give them something to cling to, he just seems selfish. He doesn't want to hold onto the past; he wants to flee the present. Fortunately, Hayhurst is both likeable and sympathetic, so you still find yourself rooting for his character—even if you want to slap him a couple of times.
While there are heady concerns of grief and loss, there's also a great deal of dry wit in Knable's play, and the inclusion of two original songs adds more variety to the mix. Ultimately, the play seems to be about the necessity of doing the heavy lifting when it comes to emotional trauma. So while there are plenty of downers along the way, it ends on a positive note, as the characters seem to glimpse a way out of the self-defeating spirals they have created.
This is billed as the West Coast premiere of the play, and STAGEStheatre even gets a shoutout in the published edition. More important than that recognition is that the theater has gambled by producing a play from a writer completely unknown to local audiences. Green Man may not be fully satisfying, but it's frequently fascinating, and it's a new play. So score a big win for one local theater's sense of imagination.
Joel Beers has written about theater and other stuff for this infernal rag since its very first issue in, when was that again???