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Montpellier, France
Writer, actor, artist, teacher, exploring the world and its levels in fiction, poetry, memoir, photography, fine arts.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

ROFLing turf war at MAP Theatre's "Greensward"

(This revised version of my original review corrects some misapprehensions on my part that were set right when I returned with a friend to enjoy the show a second time.)

Pay what you want, find your own seat… take a deep breath… and hold on for an unforgettable ride across time, space, and the American lawn.

"Greensward" defies any expectations. Director Richard Ziman and his turbo-charged ensemble have crafted a genre-busting slapstick romp – Tintin meets Dr. Who? The show's manic pace relents occasionally for a romantic storyline or reflective interlude, then surges onward, veering hilariously from sight gag to set piece, plot swerve to rib jab. If you are one who grins when entertained, your cheeks will ache by intermission.

In "Greensward" author R. Hamilton Wright has penned an ingenious tongue-in-cheek satire of American society and global power, and an astonishingly funny and topical exploration of an American nightmare: science vs. power.

Kevin Lin, as Dr. Timothy Hei. Photo credit: Shane Regan
We are introduced first to Dr. Timothy Hei (Kevin Lin) – whose name is the first wave of a storm of wordplay that never goes dry. At the center of a deceptively simple playground of a set, Dr. Hei ruminates on his childhood of lawn care as he tends the central exhibit in a “Suburban History Museum”: an authentic hand-powered, rotary lawnmower. This innocuous start introduces a plot thread and central metaphor of the madcap but somehow coherent story line.

That story, according to the program notes, takes place "in a world almost exactly like our own, but not quite." Hei’s boss, Dr. Fletchley (Cole Hornaday, a callow, self-centered bureaucrat/scientist who turns on a dime – or a million – in self-interest) snatches credit for Hei’s botanical research project, then swiftly turns against his protégé when money speaks. Hornaday morphs between roles with an alacrity shared by all this versatile cast.

Innocent, nerdy, and endearing Dr. Hei plays straight man to a panoply of characters. As Hei’s project gains notoriety, a struggle surfaces among the potential winners and losers in a breakthrough that would -- gasp! -- eliminate the lawn-care industry.

Kevin Lin, Peggy Gannon, and Bill Higham. Photo credit: Shane Regan
Dr. Hei’s project funding gets cut off in a hearing overseen by an indifferent Committee Chairman (stuffy, hilarious Bill Higham, who later plays a suave French ambassador with perfect nuances of accent and mannerism) and a ruthless, cut-em-off at the pants Senator Flemhorn (Melissa Fenwick in the first of several sharply differentiated roles.) No one gets a word in edgewise around the Senator, until the Chairman realizes what Hei's new turf can mean to him and his golf-course cronies.

Peggy Gannon soon comes on board as Hei’s fast-operating publicist, April Broom. When she later transitions from a soulless marketeer to an unexpectedly vulnerable love interest, Gannon (co-Artistic Director of MAP with Brandon Ryan) pulls off some truly tender moments as a cynic gradually redeemed by Hei’s awakening innocence.

Nik Doner and Jason Marr interrogate Dr. Hei (Kevin Lin). photo: Shane Regan
The rapprochement of the two at a madcap formal dinner at the French ambassador’s residence is nearly foiled in a riotous climactic scene with the amoral gun-for-hire Lothar (stunningly watchable, mock-sinister Nik Doner) and his erstwhile sidekick Kemp (Jason Marr, another agile character actor, as a two-faced fixer for the agricultural behemoths desperate to crush or corrupt Dr. Hei.)

Ashley Bagwell, too, is memorable in multiple roles:  a hard-hitting Alex Jones-like radio host, a top-tier fashion photographer, and a multi-millionaire eccentric with – well, I mustn’t give away one of the best contrivances of the show; suffice it to say that Bagwell pretty nearly steals it, no small achievement when every character steals the show over and over again.

Kevin Lin with Ashley Bagwell as T. Scott. Photo: Shane Regan
Marianna de Fazio stands out as host of a little-watched TV science program, and even more as the radical feminist eco-warrior Flora Sequoia. Liberal-leftie Seattleites may cringe at the caricature, but one of this show's many glories is that it fears to skewer no sacred cow.

The bottom line in this utterly original script is: the bottom line is what matters in America. Entrenched interests, powerful corporations, corrupt politicians, all conspire to maintain control of “the people,” like the manicured, clipped, fenced and homogenous lawns both of the elite and the common American family. "Liberating the lawn" might empower the grassroots, and there is too much money to be made by too many "power plants" to permit that. Those in power don't want the world to feed itself; they want to feed the world, and make hay doing it.

Indeed, the lawn is liberty. From the first-act lesson on lawn manicure as a human tool of self-preservation, to the ultimate face-off between control and freedom, the play deftly and hilariously moves through mayhem to transformation and a world where Hei is the hero, and grass is free. 

The show runs only through July 29 at 12th Ave. Arts. Get there early – tickets are at the door, and as always with MAP’s radical ticketing gamble, you set your own price, with no service fee.

MAP Theatre presents

by R. Hamilton Wright

Directed by Richard Ziman

12th Ave Arts at 12th and Pine on Capital Hill

Now through July 29, 2017

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