Saturday, February 04, 2006

When the World Was Green (Cesear's Forum)

Colerider Excels in Cesear’s Forum’s ‘When the World Was Green’

‘WHEN THE WORLD WAS GREEN,’ Joseph Chaikin and Sam Shepard’s play, now being staged by Cesear’s Forum, is a lyrical memory play which examines a family vendetta that has lasted for seven generations and ends with the wave of a scarf. Of course, as is often the case in Shepard’s plays, there is a simple story line which has much below the surface meaning. The format is typical Shepard--poetic and filled with sensory images. For example, we are exposed to journeys to distant lands and exotic food "piled as high as a mountain, glistening in the sun."

The play has two characters, an old man who was once a superb chef, and a young reporter, who supposedly comes to interview him in the prison where he has been locked up for many years after poisoning a man he mistook for his hated cousin. The duo has eight conversations which are interspersed with monologues in which both characters recall incidents from their childhoods, linking the people together. This is a play of regret and loss.

First seen at the Arts Festival performed during the Atlanta Olympic games, the play had its Broadway debut at The Joseph Papp Public Theater.

This is not a Shepard solo-written piece. Joe Chaikin, his coauthor, also collaborated with Shepard on "SAVAGE/LOVE" and "TONGUES," and is well-known in his own right. He has been awarded six Obie.

Chaikin has a local link. He donated his original manuscripts and other papers to the Department of Special Collections and Archives of Kent State University in 1972. He continues to add material to his collection. In acknowledgment of his contribution KSU granted him an honorary doctorate in 1990.

As one theatre historian stated, “It is difficult to imagine a less likely pair of collaborators than Chaikin and Shepard. One an erudite, experimental New York director, the other a reclusive playwright-cum-film star, yet, their sustained theatrical partnership has produced some of the boldest dramatic texts of the late twentieth century.” As is the case in Shepard and Chaikin's other projects, live music plays an important part in the staging of ‘WHEN THE WORLD WAS GREEN.’ In fact, the piano, which was ever present in previous productions, is credited with almost becoming another character.

Cesear’s Forum’s production, under the direction of Greg Cesear has both is strengths and weaknesses. Glenn Colerider portrays the old man with proper restraint. He is consistently believable, in spite of working in a cramped space and having to manipulate through a maze of cloth panels to make exits and come forward to speak his monologues to the audience. Why set designer Michael LaRochelle placed a scrim across the front the stage isn’t clear. It caused movement problems for the actors and the seam down its center caused further distraction. The side panels, which were supposed to look like wooden walls, often were not closed or hanging straight, also causing visual distraction.

Kristie J. Lange, the reporter, has a fine singing voice and her vocal interludes were excellent. Her character development, on the other hand, was not consistent. She sometimes lost her concentration, causing a lack of idea clarity.

Cesear’s directing was also inconsistent. The final waving of the scarf, a significant act at the end of the play, was basically not seen, as it took place behind the back scrim wall which was poorly lit. There were also times when the actors had to literally squeeze past each other to make their stage crosses.

Christina Leja’s sound design was excellent, but her lighting design and execution were disastrous. Lights came and went with no plan. One scene was played entirely in the dark and as the last line was said, blinding light invaded the space.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘WHEN THE WORLD WAS GREEN’ is an interesting script. Glenn Colerider’s performance was excellent. Too bad Cesear wasn’t able to get more out of the material and didn’t have a stronger production team.

Be aware that the play runs 90-minutes without intermission and the theatre has small uncomfortable chairs with little raking. This is not a good play-viewing space.