It’s Not Easy Being Green is actually a collection of four sharply-drawn short plays and a dance piece by Washington-area artists, all about relationships in an era of ecological consciousness. An understanding that our present environmental challenges can be resolved only at significant risk or sacrifice (or both) underlies most of the plays, and sweetens the conflict among the characters.
Of the four plays – all of which had their merits – the best is clearly Driving Green, a two-hander by Theater J Founding Artistic Director Martin Blank. It is a drive through heavy traffic, taken by a conventionally liberal employee of an environmental nonprofit (Jill Levin) and her disgruntled husband (Matt “Slice” Hicks), an employee of Big Oil. Starting with his desire to turn on the air conditioning and counter the effects of the sweltering day, they needle each other in ways both personal and political, neatly managing to lay out most of elements of our national debate over the environment. There is a happy ending, for them, if not for us. It’s not exactly George and Martha, but it’s sharper dialogue than you’ll see in most short plays, or on TV. The writing is full of clever observations and unexpected developments, and Levin and Hicks give it full justice. A good play, well performed.
Hicks – whose work is one of the great pleasures of It’s Not Easy Being Green – also appears in another funny piece, Catherine O’Connor’s Manifesto. This is the story of a conceptual artist (Q. Terah Jackson) who intends to destroy all of his possessions and live a life totally divorced from material belongings – while being filmed by someone from the local art gallery (Jenny Donovan). Hicks plays a man newly made homeless by the sinking economy who wouldn’t mind some of those material belongings for himself, thank you very much. It is easy and fun to ridicule the pretensions of abstract “art statements”, and O’Connor has at it with great verve. Jackson’s performance, though, is a little over the top. When doing bombast, I recommend application of the Ralph Kramden Rule of Limitation: Unless you’re a better actor than Jackie Gleason – and you’re not – don’t make your character more bombastic than Ralph Kramden was in The Honeymooners.
The other two short plays are Ali Walton’s Use Unknown and Trash Talk by Ben Kingsland. The latter play is a dialogue between a garbage can (Carolyn Sagatov) and a recycling bin (Mary C. Davis, a little shrill for my taste). The play is better than I am making it sound in this brief description: Kingsland captures the holier-than-thou attitude of some environmentalists and puts it in the recycling bin. The garbage can, on the other hand, is earthy and winsome, thanks in large part to Sagatov’s performance and some excellent, uncredited costuming and makeup.
Use Unknown is a journey to the future, where Azania Dungee is an employee of a museum whose subject is – us. She and Matt Dewberry play an enormously appealing couple who explore their feelings about twenty-first century homo sapiens while also exploring their feelings about each other. The verdict on us: we were self-destructive schmoes, but at least we had passion. On each other? Stay tuned. The play is a little longer than it has to be, and its assumption that the future will be less passionate than the present – a common one in science fiction – is without evidentiary basis, but Walton gets us into the story without a whole lot of expositionary blather, and out of it with a minimum of fuss.
The four plays are bracketed by a brief ballet choreographed by Heather Anne Floyd and featuring Dewberry and Donovan, and some speechifying by a City bureaucrat and a guy who runs an environmental nonprofit. The ballet, which features a janitor, a garbage can, a broom, and trash, is funny and delightful. The speechifying, not so much so. The speechifiers may have noble purposes, and even do noble things, but the rules for them are the same as they are for all artists at the Fringe, whether they be writers, choreographers, directors or performers: speak to a purpose, acknowledge complexity, bring your work to a conclusion, and get off the stage.