[media-credit name=”Michael Brunk / nwlens.com” align=”alignleft” width=”225″][/media-credit]With A Shade of Green, written by Artistic Director Charles Waxberg, co-directed by Waxberg and Paul O’Connell, Theatre 9/12 offers something refreshingly earnest. The show, without becoming rigid or driven by utilitarian movement, betrays a shared concern on behalf of the dramatist and company for economy, deliberateness, and textual muscularity. The result is a play that deserves to be highly recommended, which does not and needs not make excuses for itself. Every component of A Shade, be it elegant or clumsy, leaves the impression it was engineered and situated with purpose, which is a reflection of creative dignity and a serious effort.
I’ve spent the last half-hour trying to dig up a quote which goes something like, “the greater the scope of its ideas, the greater the potential of the work,” but have come up dry. At any rate, the point stands: The first thing that elevates A Shade is that it squares off against big concepts of integrity, responsibility, and character. Comprised mostly of a real-time conversation between two fiercely intelligent and wildly different men, a conversation under tremendous pressures of time and consequence, the play takes a complex situation, picks it apart, puts it under a microscope, looks at it from different angles, and leaves the audience to decide, “What was the right answer?”
Lyman Conroy (Michael Oaks) is a soft-stepping, gentle, reserved accountant for the Pittsburgh archdiocese. He’s a dove of a man, whom one would sooner expect to see volunteering in a soup kitchen or reading to children than amid any immediate perversity or scandal, or willingly in harm’s way. So it’s in spite of the established patterns of Lyman’s M.O., driven by a curiosity, a secret desperation, and a need to be involved in something important, that he assents, by the request of the villain himself, to visit convicted and infamous serial killer Andy Kahn (Terry Edward Moore) on death row, nineteen days before Kahn’s scheduled execution. What does Kahn want? How will Conroy fare in the lion’s den? How immediate is the threat? These questions hit the audience immediately, within the earliest moments of the play. A Shade of Green doesn’t ease you into it; it hits you with it.
Upon Kahn’s entrance there’s little doubt as to who’s holding all the cards or who’s commanding the conversation. Conroy is haplessly patient as Kahn, at his chosen rate and with calculated and fluctuating degrees of intensity, empties a bladder of disturbing and sinister information. What did Kahn do? Why, of all people, did he ask for Conroy? Do they know each other? How? What is Conroy being asked for? All of this information Kahn holds very close to his chest, tormenting Conroy (and the audience) with withheld answers. We are on a ride designed by a madman.
Ultimately the cards will be placed on the table, the nature of the situation and proposition will come into focus, and Conroy will be put in the position of making a very, very serious decision. The making of the decision, which is necessarily the culmination of the conversation and the climax of play, is a little problematic, presenting a weakness in the basic architecture of the script: When your villain spends the entire play bound, handcuffed to a table, under the observation of at least one armed prison guard, his powers are, to say the least, reduced. The threat to Conroy can only be so great, and he can always leave the room. Resultantly, the climax rests on Conroy either agreeing to something, or not agreeing to it. This doesn’t stick in my craw particularly, but it’s certainly a case of the destination taking backseat to the journey.
A large part of what makes it worth the dice-throw of going to the theater these days is the persistent hope and possibility of seeing something that dares to reciprocate the attendee’s risk of time, energy, and money with artistic risk. A Shade of Green, every performance of which I’d be loath not to mention is Pay-What-You-Can, is a commendable effort that amounts to a moving production worth seeing. Michael Oaks, Terry Edward Moore, and Gregory Michaels (who portrays the curt, chest-puffing security guard) hand in some tremendous portrayals of some complex and beautifully considered characters. You’ll find yourself respected by a production that respects itself, and you’ll leave with something to think about.
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday, February 11, at 2:00 p.m.; Sunday, February 19, at 2:00 p.m., through February 19 // Theatre 9/12 at Trinity Parish Hall, 609 8th Ave // PWYC, tickets available at (206) 332-7908 or EquityMemberProject@Theatre912.com