Leave Me Green’s depiction of a nontraditional family plagued by loss in New York City is a richly colorful one. Lisa DeHaas’s new play, directed by Jay Stull at the Gym at Judson, is a realistic and emotionally resonant picture of how one finds community in times of grief in the unlikeliest of places.
The central relationship of the play lies between Rebecca, a faded soap opera star now selling Manhattan real estate, and her son Gus, a thoughtful teenage boy with a penchant for music. They have lost their partner and mother Inez, killed in the Middle East while serving in the U.S. military’s IT management team. Rebecca (played by Charlotte Booker) has become an alcoholic and Gus (Oscar A. L. Cabrera) is in the uncomfortable position of caring for the his mother’s needs at the same time as dealing with his own grief. Rebecca is a negligent, if not neglectful, parent. By mid-morning, she already has alcohol on her breath and she struggles to complete simple tasks like setting a timer for the oven or remembering her keys. She masques her suffering with a happy-go-lucky attitude, losing sight of the fact that her son needs her support and structure in their time of need.
Gus finds human connection elsewhere. His neighbor Myron (Michael Gaines), an easygoing pot dealer across the hall, shares his passion for music and takes him under his wing. Myron, however, has an uneasy relationship with Rebecca, signaling a past kept hidden from Gus. Gus also meets Lia (Emma Meltzer) at Al-A-Teen, a support group for teenagers whose friends and family members suffer from addiction. Lia is a neurotic teenage girl with a history similar to Gus’s, and they become important supporters to each other.
By the middle of the play, the audience can pretty much map out the rest of the plot. Rebecca’s big reveal near the end is somewhat predictable, if not underwhelming. I was not clear on how her secret changed the character’s relationships, nor why it was kept such a secret in the first place. There are also a few scenes where lines intended for comic relief or relate-ability fell uncomfortably flat. For example, we enter a scene mid-conversation as Lia and Gus discuss menstruation. Lia shouts that she has to leave because “I’m totally bleeding!”
Leave Me Green’s cast is excellent– well-suited for their roles and able to imbue them with complexity and nuance. Charlotte Booker is exciting to watch as Rebecca. You could truly sense Rebecca’s faltering strength as she scatters the contents of her bag across the floor, looking for her keys, or laughing off Gus’s sincere attempts to communicate. Oscar A. L. Cabrera is also a trustworthy and empathetic hero for the play, play Gus with great sensitivity.
Another hallmark of the production is the set by Jessica Parks. The four corners of the stage represent each character’s unique realm. Rebecca’s kitchen and Myron’s living room face each other across the hall, with Gus’s bedroom downstage left and Lia’s meeting room just opposite. The four locations are distinct but connected, reminding us how each of these characters has something to gain by visiting the others’ corners of life.
Leave Me Green’s characters suffer alone but succeed when together. It’s a clear message for people forging their own families in times of need. As Lia says in a letter to her Al-A-Teen peers, “If we’re here, and afraid- at least we’re not afraid and alone.”
Leave Me Green plays at the Gym at Judson through April 11. Tickets here.