Pulpish Play

The Green Game sounds as if it could be an offbeat classic, had this production's director not so consistently sabotaged its author. Playwright M. Stefan Strozier appears to have constructed a sly and playful political allegory, undercut by slack, glancing direction from ... M. Stefan Strozier. Though buried under awkward staging and lifeless line readings, Strozier's play offers some resonant observations about Homeland Security-era hypocrisies and any-means-necessary war profiteering. The almost pulpy plot concerns a backroom deal between some Cuban grifters and a rogue U.S. senator. Sen. Albright (Joe Wissler) wants to trade a set of U.S. mint plates he somehow stole from the Secret Service for a counterfeiting machine his Havana connection promises will produce unlimited, undetectable copies of U.S. currency. He wants to funnel this funny money into neoconservative-style foreign policy adventures.

But the deal turns out to be an elaborate ruse involving his resentful daughter, his dead wife, treason, greed, and some ugly family secrets. Ultimately, The Green Game winds up a tragedy in the classical/Shakespearean mold. A quintet of dancers, including singer Keri Ann Peterson, forms a kind of kinetic Greek chorus.

Strozier's dialogue is lean, punchy, and often delightfully left field (at times I thought of good, world-weary Graham Greene), but almost none of his actors make enough of an investment in their characters to lend them any emotional realism or force. The default mode of delivery here is fast and hollow. If Strozier the director is going for a kind of farcical screwball pace, he seems to have lost all sense of nuance in mashing the accelerator.

April Gentry, as the senator's aggrieved daughter, utters pivotal lines like "Why are you doing this to me?" as if somebody scuffed her Manolos. In the play's tragic denouement, the senator cries out, "Why, God, why have you done this to me?" with the kind of grief that accompanies losing a minor bet on the Giants. His chilling refrain, "America must be protected," grows feebler each time it's repeated.

Another stifled pleasure of this play is its arresting dance. Choreographed by Mindy Upin, the dance numbers languish under the blandest of bland piano cues. The dancers portray the local color in a seedy Havana nightclub, yet their seductive moves clash with music you'd expect to hear on a corporate training video. As the Lady in Red, Peterson, a striking singer-dancer bombshell with pitch as graceful as her moves, symbolizes the allure of greed. It's both a compliment to her and a bad sign for the headliners that my eye often wandered from the drama proper to the Lady in Red having some random background fun.

Of the actors in the foreground, only Jessie Fahay, as the comical femme fatale New Orleans Louise, gives a credible performance. She somehow dredges up the irony and innuendo of Strozier's text in a subtle, believable fashion. Her polar opposite here is Ben Bailey, who shouts his way through his role as high-strung black marketeer Johnny Silver, badly telegraphing a coke habit (sniff, blink, sniff) while betraying a very real habit of stepping on lines. In between these two extremes, McGregor Wright, as a sarcastic, faithless priest, and Wissler's Sen. Albright are simply affectless and false.

The Green Game has the makings of a good play, given either stronger casting choices, inspired direction, or both. As presented at Theater 3, Strozier's intriguingly written material only plays dead.

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