For most of us, our myths and memories of childhood are a bubbling brew of joys (the last day of the school year, finding a full-size Snickers in the Halloween bag) and terrors (boogeymen in the closet, the first day of the school year) that stay with us our whole lives. And no matter how big we grow, there are nagging issues from our formative years that we keep trying to resolve or eradicate -- even as we seek to recreate the happy times.
Fortunately, however, it's rare when a youngster is saddled with the assignment of killing his own cousin in retribution for a family conflict dating back several generations. This is the baggage carried by the aging master chef in When the World Was Green, a play by Joseph Chaikin and Sam Shepard. The playwrights have subtitled their work "A Chef's Fable," which apparently gives them license to freely twirl lyrical pretensions at the expense of reason. Even so, ill-fitting details keep getting in the way of this Cesear's Forum production, in spite of the best efforts of a talented two-person cast.
In a prison cell in an unspecified European country, an elderly coot responds to questions from a young female reporter about his crime: killing a man by poisoning his dish of quail with Amaretto sauce. The chef had intended to kill his cousin, whom he'd been tracking for decades, but evidently mistook some other poor schlub for his target. Of course, it doesn't take warrantless domestic wiretapping to figure out that the dogged reporter, who suffers from the loss of her father, might just have a connection to the old guy's dastardly deed.
The playwrights are so intent on mining the symbolic dimensions of these characters that they leave large boulders of incredulity in the audience's path, forgetting that even fables must have their own internal logic. In explanation of how the homicidal cook could mistake a stranger for a relative he grew up with, he offers: "He was always trying to trick me. Apparently, he did." Uh, yeah, except the stranger fooled him, not the cousin. This unreality is further heightened by Michael A. Larochelle's set, which presents a plywood cell with a curtain for a door -- not exactly up to Oz code for maximum security.
If disbelief can be set aside, the elliptical recollections penned by Chaikin and Shepard are lush and resonant (the chef remembers a market in his hometown with "fish piled as high as a mountain, glistening in the sun"). And under the sensitive direction of Greg Cesear, Glenn Colerider delivers a profound sense of quietly resigned exhaustion as the chef who was never able to simply focus on his craft. In the largely thankless role of the reporter, Kristie J. Lang is almost as invisible as the playwrights intend her to be.
By trying too earnestly, this play loses its ability to comment with telling force on the issues of revenge and redemption, which is its achingly obvious goal.