BWW Review: THE GREEN ROOM at Wayward Actors Company
In his opening night curtain speech, director Jeff Mangum referenced the Wayward Actors' Company 2018 production of Hand to God, which he also directed. David Ippolito's The Green Room is another unorthodox speculation about the contrast between the more inclusive Christian sects and their more extreme brethren.
Two members of The Tonight Show staff, Gabriel (Greg Collier) and Marc (Andrew Mertz) are seen awkwardly planting a video camera in the Green Room to capture incriminating material on a VIP guest scheduled for that night's taping. The identity of The Guest (Rick O'Daniel-Munger) is something I choose not to reveal here, except to say that he is a powerful figure, one who occupies a rigidly patriarchal position of great traditional influence on the world's population. But there is so much about this play that is better left to a new audience's discovery that it makes it difficult to review.
For example, how much can I say about the curiously unsettling relationship between bible-toting Darlene (Susan Crocker) and Matthew (Jack Marks), visitors to NYC from somewhere below the Mason-Dixon line? Probably nothing more than that, except that it is yet another reminder of the good value Susan Crocker gives to every production she is a part of.
Gabriel and Marc are confronted by The Guest before they can escape The Green Room, and spend the next 90 minutes engaged in a "conversation between three intelligent men" that proves unexpectedly enlightening for all three. It allows Ippolito to make a case for the plight of human compassion and innate decency fighting from within an impenetrable religious and social infrastructure; neatly making an argument that doesn't belittle the atheist or the theist without seeming weak in the foundation. The Green Room is a thoughtful and provocative play that is also very, very funny.
Mr. Mangum is wise in his casting, beginning with Rick O'Daniel Munger, who is nearly perfect as The Guest. His patrician air feeds perfectly into inhabiting a character of estimable spiritual authority, balanced with the common man touch that relishes the opportunity to escape the expectations of his office.
Greg Collier puts his gift for neurotic comedy to good use with Gabriel, adroitly playing the verbal and physical laughs that also color the more revelatory aspects of the character. He and Andrew Mertz make a good team here, and Mr. Mertz nicely realizes the anxious naiveté of Marc.
Jack Marks is asked to occupy the slow-witted and slightly disconnected-from-reality Matthew, the intentionally least developed character who is clearly under Darlene's control. He does it well, unafraid to embrace the vacuousness that is crucial to his role.As for Ms. Crocker, she achieves a charismatic quality that makes her both compelling and frightening.
This is a world premiere, brought by Ippolito and producer Jeff Chrzczon to Kentucky because of the relationship to religion exemplified in the Bible belt. It is a stroke of good fortune for Wayward Actors Company, a company typically devoted to recent contemporary plays and the occasional classic, and notable for the ongoing series of popular show tune reviews under the title, "Unhindered and Ungendered". In a talkback after the performance, the playwright discussed the genesis of the piece so that his motivations and themes are crystal clear. Although the idea for The Green Room dates back several years in the playwright's life, it speaks eloquently but with bold conviction to the conflicts in the American identity at this moment. Its appearance in Louisville now in what might not be its final form is a unique opportunity to catch a work of art before it moves to wider exposure.
The Green Room
August 9, 10, 15, 16, 17 @7:30pm
August 11 & 18 @5:30
Wayward Actors Company
The Bard's Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205