Danny Truxaw’s “The Green Room” Tried
By Amy Nicholson
I don’t know any acting students at University of California Riverside, but I imagine they’re competitive, egotistic, and obsessively invested in who’s shagging whom. For that matter, so are the botanists, archaeologists, and business majors. Actors, in the abstract, are a reviled lot. They bring to life the frailties of humanity and we in turn credit them with perfecting those frailties. Writer-director Danny Truxaw went through UCR’s acting school in the ’70s and credits their hangout, the Green Room—now lost to an earthquake—as providing “a magic seldom found in the actual world.” Yet his attempt to harness that intangible wonder in his play feels all too terrestrial.
Karen (Jacquelyn Umoff) had a last semester fling with Cort (Andrew Abrahamson), who spent the break secretly banging Maggie (Maria Ana Candida) during summer stock in a Romeo and Juliet that starred Johnny (Joe Cipriani), the region’s baby Brando, who used to score with lion-haired Linda (Stephanie Ann Scott) but got drunk and slept with the department’s new under-aged ingénue Ruth (Ailya Astaphan) who’s hell-bent on triggering some All About Eve brawls. Meanwhile, Linda’s furious that the faculty is undercutting her thesis project directing The Crucible by snatching up all the male actors in school for their mainstage staging of The Tempest and Blithe Spirit. Women’s lib may be in full flower, but she’s a fish in desperate need of several bicycles. For Linda, overlooked character actor Mark (Beaux Waller), flamboyant Terry (Rhett Swanson) who enters and exits narrating his own stage directions, set designer Mary (Parker Morrison) and the rest of Truxaw’s star-cross’d couples, theater is their universe. Literally—there’s no acknowledgement of the outside world from Vietnam to Watergate to Captain and Tennille. Unmoored, we’re meant to fill the void by sharing in the gang’s timeless love of the stage.
But instead, we’re fed mostly their lust for fame and fireworks. They want big roles, but we never connect to their need to create and perform. The moments that click come when Johnny soothes the actors’ bruised egos by convincing them of the importance of their supporting roles and you see their faces flush with the knowledge that they, too, have a real part to play. The actual actors themselves aren’t quite as fortunate in their characters as many are superfluous and all are shallow, though Scott’s resentful grad student has a grounded presence. With more effort weighted on costuming than smooth staging (during changes, sometimes the set was dark for nearly the full length of a Beatles song) the production feels practically unfamiliar with the theater it professes to embrace.
Ultimately, the biggest tribute to Truxaw’s clear and honest passion for his time at UCR is that the play itself exists—and forms the first part of his Riverside trilogy. If the next two plays invite the audience to witness more of these young artists’ creativity than their disposable crushes, they’ll offer actual insight into the mind of the developing actor, those overpopulated, under-respected creatures who want a writer like Truxaw to tell their story.