Chicago-based playwright Douglas Post has written dozens of credible plays over many years on a gamut of topics. Name a genre; chances are the prolific Post has a play for you. Religious themes, sociopolitical, contemporary love stories, even a rock opera based on William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” titled “Prospero’s Saxophone.”
In the mystery-thriller category, Post’s “Murder in Green Meadows” tops the list. First staged in the United Kingdom in 1992, this diabolical tale of sex, deception and murder in the suburbs remains popular as a regional and community theater staple. Banal and chatty one minute, it goes unpredictable, mean-spirited and full of dark mind games the next.
Kaleidoscope Theatre has a capable version of “Meadows” on its Medaille College stage. Christopher Standart directs Becky Globus, Timothy Patrick Finnegan, Stephanie Bax and Michael Seitz, all adept at conveying shock and even a little fright as the story progresses through twists and turns of plot. Twice, a lady near me whispered: “I didn’t see that coming.” That’s a good sign that director and cast have done their work well.
Thomas Devereaux (Finnegan), is a designer of upscale housing tracts and he and his wife, Joan (Bax), have just moved into the model home. Still unpacking, they are visited by neighbors Jeff and Carolyn Symons (Seitz and Globus). The couples hit it off and soon are barbecuing, golfing and enjoying what seems to be a 24/7 happy hour.
Gradually, we learn more: Tom is very busy, meticulous, quick-tempered and wary; Joan is a pleasant ditz but worried about something awful that happened back in their old development; amiable Jeff is concerned with upward mobility and his job could be downsized; Carolyn is recovering from depression, but she’s a devoted mother. (“Not a breakdown, exactly, more like a shutdown,” she offers.) Fairly typical so far.
Then, “Murder in Green Meadows” begins to resemble a cul de sac from hell. But, no more information from me except know that small talk goes out the patio window as the past intrudes and the present turns ugly. Lies multiply. All the little asides and barbs and hints at strange things afoot come home to roost. Life in Green Meadows goes to seed.
Director Standart loves these mystery/thrillers, citing Dame Agatha Christie, J.B. Priestley, Ira Levin and Peter Shaffer in his program notes. Like those icons, Standart has seen to it that secrets and schemes are carefully divulged, teaching while entertaining and keeping audience yawns to a minimum while the plot evolves and, of course, thickens.
The cast is fine. The actors are cool then cruel, passive then panicky. The play’s final minutes are skillfully brought to plausibility.
There’s a workmanlike set by Keith Wharton but Kathryn Ludwig’s lighting design – enjoyably soft, lamp lit and mellow often but just as frequently dark and shadowy – puzzles and distracts. The half-light mars the play’s hard earned merit.
Yet, most people enjoy a good murder mystery. “Murder in Green Meadows” is one.
What: “Murder in Green Meadows”
Where: Kaleidoscope Theatre at Medaille College, 15 Agassiz Circle
When: Through Feb. 15
Info: 479-1587, www.kaleidoscopebuffalo.com.