nytheatre.com review by Heather J. Violanti
February 28, 2010
Dreamlike and haunting, Pageant Wagon's production of Green Man is a FRIGID Festival highlight. A bold production with a taut ensemble and a shoestring budget, it's a fine example of fringe theatre.
Green Man, written by Don Nigro, retells the Arthurian legend of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," itself a retelling of the Celtic myth of the Green Man, a mysterious figure whose arrival heralds the start of spring. Nigro moves the action to a chapel in the backwoods of Maryland during the Civil War. Gavin, a soldier, was found bleeding in the snow on "Christmastide." Robey, a gruff hunter, brings Gavin to the chapel to heal, while Robey's wife, Fay, tends to his wounds. Their 17-year-old daughter, Holly, looks on, growing jealous of the unspoken attraction between Gavin and her mother. Meanwhile, witchlike Mrs. Robey, Holly's grandmother, tells folktales of love and death.
The play is narrated by Holly, and, per Nigro's stage directions, the cast remains on stage the entire time. Director Brad Raimondo has done a masterful job in orchestrating the cast's movements and steering them through Nigro's poetic and challenging dialogue. In particular, Elizabeth Erwin and Laura Lee Williams give seductive, nuanced performances as the battling mother and daughter Fay and Holly. Jared Sampson makes an endearingly bewildered Gavin, while Ugo Chukwu displays friendly menace as Robey. Elizabeth Romanksi, several decades too young for Mrs. Robey, transforms herself into a wise, wizened crone simply through her hunched movement and careful voice. The actors cohere brilliantly into an ensemble; their collective reaction to the increasingly strange events gives the play its soul. If anything, the beats in their individual scenes could be more carefully refined, but perhaps this will come with time.
Raimondo, the ensemble, and production designer Morgan Anne Zipf have crafted some breathtakingly lovely movements. Listen to the haunting ring of chimes as Holly gazes longingly at the wounded Gavin, or the splash of water in a bucket as Mrs. Robey wrings out a blood-red cloth, a harbinger of things to come. The final tableau is as arresting as it is unexpected—for an instant, the company creates the image of a desolate, snowy landscape, with just a clean white sheet spread across the floor.
Go see Green Man if you can; it truly is an illuminating production.