Mary-Louise Parker makes Reckless a Jolly (if darkly absurd) Holiday
In the world of Craig Lucas' 1983 play Reckless a husband can confess to his wife five minutes after the curtain goes up that she must run for her life because he's hired a hit man to kill her on Christmas Eve and the playwright needn't be responsible for ever letting us know why the husband hired this hit man nor what made him change his mind. In the world of Reckless financial woes can easily be eliminated by appearing on a TV game show where you win cash prizes by humiliating your loved ones. In the world of Reckless we can laugh at the tragedy that occurs to others without feeling the least bit of guilt. Not everyone's going to enjoy Reckless as much as I did, that's for sure. And without question many will read a lot more social commentary into it than I really care to. But one conclusion will no doubt be fairly universal; Mary-Louise Parker is the shiniest ornament in this story of misfit toys. In Reckless, she is the thinking man's pretty little ditz in a dark, absurd sit-com of a fairy tale.
'Twas the night before Christmas and, in the person of Rachel (an interestingly Jewish name for the protagonist of this Christmas fable), Parker is positively giddy as an 8-year-old watching the snow fall outside her bedroom window. "I'm having one of my euphoria attacks", she tells her husband Tom (Thomas Sadoski) whose attention is buried in the words of a TV anchor. "It's just the news. It's not real!" she complains in complete earnestness.
That's when he tells her. He's hired a thug to knock her off that very night. She has to run for it. In A Doll's House Nora slams the door behind her. In Reckless, Rachel climbs out the windowsill. In either case, our heroine is about to discover the world.
Reckless is extremely plot-heavy and quirky, unexpected twists in the story carry much more weight than the underdeveloped characters. This is a good thing. If Lucas dug a little deeper and made his assortment of oddballs worthy of our emotional involvement, Reckless would be a pretty dreary and depressing two hours. But by liberating us of any empathetic attachment, the author is free to have unreal and rather nasty events serve as the piece's major punch lines.
Meanwhile, back at the plot, Rachel accepts a ride from a complete stranger (Michael O'Keefe) and an invitation to live with him and his deaf-mute paraplegic live-in girlfriend (Rosie Perez) for as long as she likes. (I suppose the human need for some kind of family unit can be considered a theme if you insist on having one.) Naturally, her new-found roomies have secrets (Okay, okay -- You never really know people. But that's the last theme I'll allow.) which eventually lead to Rachel's appearance on a rather cruel TV talk show, the return of certain family members and visits to several different psychiatrists. Any more mention of plot details will just ruin surprises and some good laughs. Oh, but I will mention that Debra Monk is quite a blast playing all six doctors and her scenes with Parker provide the highlights of the evening.
Allen Moyer's set adds a nice bit of cynicism to the proceedings, with minimal pieces and a continual snowfall, often done very cleverly, giving the appearance that the play is taking place within a holiday snow globe. Combined with David Van Tieghem's original music and sound design, the production has a warped sense of holiday cheer. Mark Brokaw's direction is most effective in the broader moments of absurdity.
But the beginning, middle and end reason to see this production of Reckless is Mary-Louise Parker's charming comedic performance. Nowadays it's rather refreshing to see a small, star vehicle comedy -- a type of play that was once so plentiful -- back on Broadway.