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SUBURBAN LEGENDS
PLAYWRIGHT PROBES MYSTERIOUS HAPPENINGS BEYOND CITY LIMITS

Chicago playwright Douglas Post knows how scary the suburbs are. Far from Cleaver-family dens of comfort, Post sees what goes on beneath the surface of America's white-picket-fenced utopias. And it isn't pretty.

He also knows how to write a thrilling murder mystery. Post's "Murder in Green Meadows" celebrates Studio Arena Theatre's 300th production with an exposing look at the lives of four seemingly ordinary suburbanites.

Studio Arena's production of Post's thriller comes at an opportune time for audiences, with the success of ABC's hit drama "Desperate Housewives" reminding city and suburban dwellers alike what lurks behind those meticulously landscaped lawns.

Post paused from his current projects -- two commissioned plays for the Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago, where he serves as one of 12 resident playwrights -- to discuss the merits of the murder-mystery genre, the thrills and chills in "Murder in Green Meadows" and the realization that the grass may not always be greener on the other side.

"Murder in Green Meadows" was originally written for television. How has it evolved from its original incarnation into the show currently on stage at Studio Arena?

Back in 1986, it was done as a one-act play on WMAQ-TV, the Chicago NBC affiliate, with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. And out of that I decided to expand upon what I had written and so wrote a full-length version, which had its premiere in England at the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton in 1992.

That script was fundamentally the same script that is being performed today in Buffalo. I tend to be closely involved with the first (production team) of any play of mine because one continues to tinker. But it has not (undergone) any major transformation since then.

Murder mysteries tend to lean toward the kitschy and transparent, especially on stage. What challenges you, as a playwright, to dig deeper into the darker realms of mysteries?

I write in a number of different genres. I've written musicals, children's shows, rock operas, comedies, farces, political dramas. But I am very much drawn to writing mysteries. What I like about the genre is that it's heavy on plot. It's heavy on story, and fundamentally, what audiences want when they go to the theater is a good story. But I also think it is a form that can be subverted to one's own political or social end.

Murder is not simply about losing bodies. It is more about the live bodies and what they are doing to each other -- and what they aren't doing to each other. This is a psychological thriller about four people who over the course of six months go from being best friends to being mortal enemies. But it is also, I think, a black comedy about the downside of the American dream.

American film and television seem to have an obsession with exploring the darker side of suburban culture, with shows like "Desperate Housewives" and films like "American Beauty." Why do you think this is?

The suburbs can be both funny and scary. It's not really the city, and it's not really the country. It's a strange American invention. They tend to be rather protected, and they tend to be occupied by primarily the people who our president would call the "haves" and the "have-mores." It's the place where people move to get away from it all before they realize they are it.

It's like that expression -- life will catch up with you, no matter where you go.

"Murder in Green Meadows" continues through Sunday in Studio Arena Theatre, 710 Main St. Tickets are $24 to $52. Call 856-5650.

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