nytheatre.com review by Maggie Cino
January 7, 2011
For P.S. 122’s production of Green Eyes, the small audience gathers uncertainly in the lobby of the Hudson Hotel. Hotels are by definition liminal places where anything can happen; just waiting for the show to begin is a provocative experience. A guide ushers everyone up the elevator and down the sterile hallways. The little group squeezes into a room one by one through a forest of potted ferns, and sits shoulder-to-shoulder in tight rows. On the other side of the room is a bed with red bedclothes, and over it is a velvet painting of a black tiger. Slowly, the lights go down, and a woman, played by Erin Markey, bursts through the door, looking the audience straight in the eye. She coyly sings an old jazz standard with the refrain “Do Your Duty.” She flirts, she sidles, she sits in some laps, and finally she strips down to only her panties and dives into the bed. Then the fourth wall comes up—and unfortunately stays in place for most of the rest of the play.
The story is: a newly married couple honeymoons in a hotel in the French quarter of New Orleans. The night before was a wild night on Bourbon Street, and they returned to the hotel separately. They wake up together at the start of the play, and immediately begin to fight—physically, verbally, and sexually—about what happened in those hours apart.
Chris Keegan and Travis Chamberlain’s production design is close, hot, cheap, and feral. Duncan Cutler and Travis Chamberlain’s subtle sound design emphasizes the literal and metaphorical war in the room, but the tongue-in-cheek music as prologue and epilogue is an aural sorbet.
Every moment of this tiny play withstands the microscopic scrutiny inevitable in the setting. Markey and Adam Couperthwaite, as her soldier husband, play their roles with skill and passion. But the actors are so expert and the fourth wall down so tight that as the experience goes on, the sense of intimacy and danger lessens, rather than heightens. The mostly naked Markey spends much of the play standing inches from the audience, but her focus on an imaginary window is so intense it’s easy to start taking her presence for granted. The initial titillation of being so close to the players becomes strangely alienating the more intense the action becomes.
With both the script and the production, the best drama happens before the play even starts. Still, the actors are engaged in a passionate exploration, and while the intimacy of the production makes its artistry all the more obvious, the same could be said of Tennessee Williams’s writing. That doesn’t make either any less enjoyable.