|Deone Jennings and Johnnie Torres|
By Tina Arth
As Halloween approaches, thoughts turn naturally to sinister themes – hence Twilight Theater Company’s timely staging of Douglas Post’s Murder in Green Meadows. The play hits all of the right notes for a classic murder mystery – lots of twists and turns, classic “perfect murder undone by one small detail.” However, the real beauty of the production is the way that director Doreen Lundberg and her little cast have mined each character for the unspoken but critical points that illuminate each player’s psychological makeup. Lundberg’s director’s note says, “ I hope that it [the show] sparks a conversation between you and someone you saw it with.” Driving home last Friday night I was so preoccupied with a conversation about how to interpret some subtle points that I missed my off ramp!
The plot moves smoothly from mundane to macabre – successful architect Thomas Devereaux and his lovely wife Joan have just moved into the model home for Thomas’ latest development, in upscale, suburban Green Meadows. An impromptu visit by new neighbors Carolyn and Jeff Symons leads to a friendship between the two couples. However, beneath the surface all is not well, as suggested by a palpable awkwardness in all of the couples’ communications. Carolyn shares a harrowing tale of a stress-induced nervous breakdown that relegates a highly intelligent and perceptive woman to a frustrating life as a soccer mom. Jeff seems childishly distraught over his performance on the golf course with Thomas. Joan tells an odd story about burning her treasured doll collection, and is openly seductive when alone with Jeff. Thomas maintains a rigidly appropriate affect around Carolyn and Jeff, but is controlling and abusive toward Joan when they are alone – culminating when he claims that he murdered Joan’s teenaged lover in their last neighborhood. The story really takes off when Thomas demands that Joan not only stop seeing Jeff, but that she kill him. All of this leads up to a gripping and satisfying psychological showdown between Joan and Thomas.
Marcella Laasch is quite wonderful as the brilliant Carolyn Symons. Laasch gives her character an incessant superficial cheerfulness, but she allows Carolyn’s incisive mind to lurk just below the surface until it’s needed, and her confident demolition of Thomas in a poker game nicely foreshadows the final conflict. In contrast, Johnnie Torres (as husband Jeff Symons) is likeable, if somewhat pitiable, as a good-hearted, none-too-bright, salt-of-the-earth kind of guy. Deone Jennings’ “Joan” is an enigma – sometimes we think she is exactly what she seems to be (immature, dim, sex-starved, dependent, and easily manipulated) but occasional glimpses suggest more. Ultimately, the audience members are left to muse about her character and draw their own conclusions. David Roberts’ “Thomas” leaves no room for ambiguity – even when he’s on his best behavior, his eerily cold affect and obsessive-compulsive disorder telegraph the thinly veiled menace of the character.
The detailed set is in many ways part of the show – the three doors each play a key role, an unseen key hook in the kitchen has a life of its own, and the pristinely hip Mid-Century furniture helps to establish the Devereauxs’ mindset and economic status. Frequent costume alterations (especially by Laash and Jennings) establish both personality and the passage of time – and are miraculously squeezed into the many brief intervals afforded by minor scene changes (by the hardest working stage crew in town).
While Murder In Green Meadows is primarily just a fun murder mystery, the question of why a modern, upper-middle class American woman would tolerate domestic violence opens the door to some fascinating conversations. Director Lundberg and her cast provide a satisfying combination of classic intrigue and intriguing possibilities that should bring large audiences during this spooky season.
Twilight Theater Company’s Murder in Green Meadows is playing at the Performing Arts Theater, 7515 N. Brandon Avenue, Portland through November 5th with performances at 8 P.M. Friday and Saturday and 3:00 P.M. on Sunday.