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Red Tie/Green Tie

Playwright Joseph Robinette's powerful one-act drama melds an exploration of personal choice ethics and an imaginative presentation in a production that's both pleasingly surreal and philosophically adroit. Although director Michael Donovan's staging is sometimes too broad and seemingly simplistic to adequately mine the ramifications of the thought-provoking questions being asked, the play is a genuinely moving and subtle work.

As the play opens, a brutal thug (Paul Kouri) is seen in medias res as he mugs a terrified mother (Mary McBride) and her daughter (Kristina Bartlett) at gunpoint. The incident is accidentally witnessed by passing jogger Jack (Henry LeBlanc), who is put in the unenviable position of choosing to be a man or a louse--he can't decide whether to save the woman and child, or to save himself for his own family by not trying to stop the robbery.

Suddenly time stops: In a Twilight Zone-like moment, Jack is tossed into a sort of time warp in which he is allowed to debate the choice he's going to make, with input from the thug, the mother, and the child. The thug turns out to be not such a bad man, and the shallow and prissy mother and daughter actually come across as being rather revolting. Meanwhile, Jack's wife, Fran (Jan Sheldrick), and his own kids (J. Michael Ross, Michael Solaroli, and Erin Lander) show up to present their own arguments. The story concludes with a Survivor-like vote in which, while no one says "the tribe has spoken," someone does wind up dead.

The breezy simplicity of the play's setup belies the sophistication of Robinette's shrewd moral arguments, and it's engrossing how the play turns what could be a banal and inconsequential anecdote into an unflinching discussion of the nature of good and evil.

The show is marred, however, by Donovan's mechanical-feeling production. The frequently over-acted performances are never entirely convincing at communicating the urgency of the central situation. Many lines feel rushed, and the actors' emotions are superficially expressed and lacking in the delicate nuance needed to enliven the drama's sometimes overly cerebral arguments. Nevertheless, LeBlanc is genially likable as the folksy and archetypal normal guy hero, Sheldrick sweet and sad as his conflicted suburban wife, and McBride starkly believable as the woman being terrorized with the gun.

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