Glorious performances in When the World was Green, The Underground Theatre’s piece in Toronto’s Playwright Project
The most memorable scenes in When the World was Green (part of the Playwright Project) take place in near-darkness. An Interviewer (Shannon Taylor) floats on the surface of a river, coursing quickly and deftly around obstacles, determined to reach her destination. And an Old Man (David Fox), framed by a thin strip of twilight, slips closer to oblivion every time he breathes.
As with most two-handers, the story scarcely matters: the murder-and-cookery plot is interesting, but it serves primarily to give us these two characters. The real meat of this culinary play is in the performance.
And lord, what glorious performances these are.
Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin’s short script is more of a glacier than a play. The plot twists won’t shock you: you’ll see them coming a mile off. But when they arrive, they hit hard. Director Peter Pasyk understands the subtlety needed to execute this trick–building tension and stress without appearing to do anything at all–and the effect is highly compelling. Designer Pat Lavendar has also assisted considerably, delivering some clever lights and a minimalist but well-appointed jail-cell set all done up in chrome and steel.
Musical director Beau Dixon, seated by a keyboard in front of the audience, plays very well but often felt superfluous. Several scenes were undercut by musical interludes which appeared to have tumbled out of the soundtrack for a children’s puppet show, and unless the purpose of the frequently-used thunder sheet was to make the audience leap out of their chairs and piss themselves with surprise, it doesn’t seem to belong at all.
But never mind.
I told you these performances are glorious. They are. These actors are worth far more than the price of admission. Shannon Taylor will surprise you, shifting in subtle but affecting ways over the course of the play, really coming into her own in the final scenes. But David Fox is the real treasure here, effortlessly reaching into the audience and scooping us into the palm of his hand. Shepard and Chaikin’s Old Man is damn hard work for an actor, requiring both consistency and elasticity: Fox must be playful, charming, rebellious, menacing and resigned to his fate. And, from beginning to end, he nails it.
Shepard seems to want his audiences to treat his plays like ouija boards, dissecting every syllable to find the subtext and meaning. Half of the fun is puzzling it apart on your own, so I’ll spare you my personal analysis.
Suffice it to say that it’s good. The script is weighty and worth the effort. The directing is knowledgeable and agile. The performances are simply outstanding in every respect.
Go. Go and see this wonderful, wonderful show. Just go.
- The Playwright Project runs until May 7th at various venues across Toronto.
- Shows are at 8 pm.
- Individual tickets are $15.00. Money-saving passes are available, see website for details.
- Tickets are available online or at the door.
Photograph of Shannon Taylor and David Fox by Patrick Lavender.