The Green Manifesto
nytheatre.com review by Maura Kelley
August 14, 2009
If you were to blindly wander in to see this musical with no idea on its subject, the trash can labeled "recycle" surrounded by adorable, reconstituted cardboard-type park benches, the park symbols all part of Ann Allen Goelz minimalist set might give you a clue. If you needed a larger hint, no worries, the introduction of the opening number "Being Green" solved the case.
This charming musical had many things going for it but could have had a great deal against it. One particularly alarming element was that one of the leading actors was struck ill and had to be replaced by an understudy/assistant director who would be carrying her script throughout the performance. This brave young woman (Annie Rutherford Lutz) has a very pleasing and naturally organic quality to her acting so we quickly forgot about the dilemma and got caught up in the world of The Green Manifesto.
The play opens with an affected, English-accented, tuxedo-wearing narrator (Dan Debenport) introducing all of the characters. We learn a couple songs later that this formal dresser and avid reader is actually a puffin (not to be confused with a penguin). He also talks to humans, lives at the zoo, and serves as a confidante to both Adam Greene" (Eli James), a lawyer and environmentalist, and his eco-conscious, grad student girlfriend, Madison (Lutz). Their relationship starts to go sour when Adam is distracted by his work ambitions and preparations for a big Earth Day event. One particularly funny moment comes when Adam distractedly throws out a can of Coca-Cola but doesn't recycle!! This huge blunder can be quite disastrous in "green-conscious" relationships. A new friendship between Madison and Patrick Brown (Bob D'Haene) a recent transplant from Ireland, adds to the friction. D'Haene, shining particularly well in his song "Ireland, Ireland," gives a perfect ending to Act 1. The rivalry between Patrick, the conservationist, and Adam, the environmentalist, contributes even more to the tension. Personally, I never knew the difference between environmentalists and conservationists so there's an educational element to be found in this show as well.
There are some very funny and clever lyrics in this musical (book and lyrics are by Anne Berlin), but sometimes Andy Cohen's music doesn't match their energy. I would have liked to have had some more catchy tunes that I could remember. "Being Green" is closest to target. The harmony in the anthem-esque "Earth Day" is quite rich and stunning.
All of the actors are strong but are inconsistent vocally. Debenport, as the Puffin, is the most seasoned performer in the singing and dancing.
One thing that I found particularly odd was the lack of house music before the show and during the intermission. One audience member whispered during the break, "It's so quiet; I'm afraid to talk." It might be helpful to have some tunes to keep the energy in the room moving.
But all in all, a charming story is told and its message, though possibly overstated at times, comes across. Valentina Fratti, the director, has done a commendable job keeping the pace going and created some nice stage pictures. Please remember to recycle those cans!