nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 11, 2011
I don't know about you, but the kind of theatre I love best is the kind that engages my senses and my wits to take me on a journey I've never been on before. I don't need scenery, costumes, or $65 million worth of special effects; all I need is a script that's smart and heartfelt, a skillful actor who is determined to tell me a story, and a director that guides me into this new world with trust and care. This is what we get in actor/playwright Chris Harcum's fine new one-man play Green, directed by Aimee Todoroff. It's the best solo piece by Harcum yet, and a definite highlight of the current theatre season.
This is a sci-fi play, one that relies on our collective memories of pop/pulp/genre fiction, film, and TV—everything from Lost in Space to Star Wars to The Invisible Man—to fashion exotic make-believe worlds around the earnest simplicity of Harcum's acting. He supplies the voices, the personalities, and the occasional outsized action. We, in our mind's eyes, supply the rest: a spaceship transporting the presumed last human from one distant planet to another; a bustling television studio where two great political debates between candidates for president of Planet Mumbai Forest are played out; the horrific, stern, vastness of an oxygen farm (where, I imagined, beings are sentenced to the horrendous task of fusing protons and neutrons together, day in and day out).
Yep, Harcum plays all 21 characters in this intimate epic, and amazingly well. The central character is the eponymous Green, who may be the last human being in the universe. Green is a "physical poet" who used to be a professional impersonator for the military. Finding himself stranded on a foreign planet, he gets arrested for doing one of his physical poetry performances in public. He is sentenced to work at the oxygen farm by an ancient, malevolent, nepotistic judge, and after an embarrassing trip arrives there, where he is befriended by the aptly named Enormous. But once Commander Crush realizes that Green is an impersonator, he relieves him of his sentence, and instead employs him in a complex, twisty plot to prevent Ruck (a nasty politician whose diction and posture reminds us of Richard M. Nixon) from becoming President of Planet Mumbai Forest. Complications ensue!—think Star Trek meets The 39 Steps—as the genuinely innocent Green becomes further and further enmeshed in the machinations of Crush, Ruck, Atlas Anderson (Ruck's opponent), and a mythic Anarchite named Bernard Nietzche. It's grand story-telling with a moral purpose, delivered effortlessly by the remarkable Harcum as he spins in and out of characters before our eyes.
My favorites, apart from the sweet-natured Green, include Anderson's robot servants, Ariadne and Bartholomew; the biased judge Trappola and his son, the prosecutor, Trappola Jr.; and Enormous, a giant with a heart of gold. Some of the characters, like intergalactic celebrity talking head Namaste Jones, exist only in pre-recorded voiceovers, and they come across just as vividly. The key design element is the lighting, by Christopher Weston and Alex Roe, which works well to delineate time and place within the play. (Projections were not seen at the performance reviewed; I hear they'll be back up and running in future performances.)
Green is delightful, insightful, and dazzlingly theatrical. I loved following Harcum and his collaborators on this exciting journey. If you yearn to exercise your imagination, this show is likely for you.