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THEATER REVIEW The Green Bay Tree
by Sean Margaret Wagner
2018-06-27

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Author: Mordaunt Shairp.

At: Pride Arts Center- Buena Theater, 4147 N Broadway. Tickets: 866-811-4111; PrideFilmAndPlays.com; $15-30. Runs through: July 8

It's hard out there for a straight-faced read on a melodrama like Mordaunt Shairp's The Green Bay Tree. Pride Films and Plays cracks the spine on this subversive look at how gayness was unspokenly permitted on depression era stages, but there's something missing: The why. Director Amy Sarno has provided a distinctly Chicago take on this British comic drama, and while it's a lovely Pride-ready history lesson, it doesn't have a modern opinion to express on some old views.

Think of it this way: What would you rather see—an unironic retread of the 1936 anti-drug propaganda film Reefer Madness or the 1996 satirical musical that uses the same plot and subject matter to reveal how harmful and ridiculous the original film was?

Written in 1933, The Green Bay Tree brings us into the idyllic world of Mr. Dulcimer ( Alexander McRae ), a wealthy Chicagoan with a penthouse view, devoted butler Trump ( Buzz Leer ) and nothing more important to see to than vacations and flower arrangements. If you decent, God-fearing theater goers haven't caught on, Dulcimer—a fussy, lifelong bachelor—is coded as gay. When his young ward, Julian ( Bradley Halverson ), comes home with a new love, Leonora ( Kristen Alexia ), it throws a wrench into Dulcimer's meticulously planned future. Dulcimer decides to cut Julian off financially as soon as he weds, and the lovers scheme to make Julian a—gulp!—working man. It's a battle of wills, gender norms and, ultimately ( because 1933's views on homosexuality were harsh and uncompromising ), a battle of good versus evil.

The cast is game to break down the civility of their stuffy drawing room, and get to the dirty fun of snide remarks and name calling. Alexander McRae makes quick work of everyone as Dulcimer, either with a silent size-up, or barbs that sound sweet, but were never intended as compliments. He'd like us to know that we all fall short of his immaculacy. Bradley Halverson's Julian is too trusting to suspect anything nefarious about his mentor; he mentions a newly acquired dog we never see, but Julian is the true pup, ready to show his belly to conflicting alpha dogs. Kristen Alexia steps in as Leonora to assert herself for all put-upon women trying to fix an imperfect man. The only thing I want to know is why such a striking Leonora would waste her time on a feckless guy.

The play puts a heavy price on Dulicmer's lifestyle, that may have acted as a deterrent to sexually curious audience members in 1933, but is frankly overwrought and laughable for Pride Film's open and out audiences. The outdated mores of The Green Bay Tree would serve us better by being skewered.


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