Single Carrot's "Red Light Winter" is Summer Hot

◊◊◊◊◊ out of five. 

(NOTE:  This review discusses sexual content and adult language.) 

With the opening of Adam Rapp's Red Light Winter, Single Carrot Theatre has single handedly brought Baltimore theatre into the 21st century, while setting a new standard for excellence.  This stunning production should be a wake up call for all local theatres (and patrons) who think you can't put on a New York quality show on a small budget.  The newest company in Charm City, Single Carrot quietly announced its presence earlier this season with a short play festival, and they did so with class and professionalism.  But nothing prepared this critic for the explosion of talent and sheer bravery that this production brings to the stage at the Theatre Project on Preston Street. 

Rapp's play, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, is an update of the struggling-to-find-its-place in-society generational play.  That struggle to reach maturity is a common theme throughout American drama particularly.  In his thoughtful director's notes, J. Buck Jabaily reminds us of plays past that have covered similar ground - Death of a Salesman, The Glass Menagerie to name but two.  As he says, "Rapp gives us an unflinching look at how young adults today are facing the struggles before them."  He is absolutely correct; it is unflinching.  It is also provocative, boldly sexual and deeply moving.  The play manages to be both of its time and timeless.  You needn't be a late 20-something to understand or relate to this work. 

Red Light Winter tells of two college buddies, post graduation and at the ground floor of their future careers.  Matt (Brendan Ragan), is a profoundly depressed young man struggling to make it as a playwright.  A self-described uber-nerd, Matt is the kind of guy you respect, love and want to help.  The other, Davis (Aldo Pantoja) is a hyper-charismatic egotistical maniac.  He is the kind of self-absorbed guy who has made a living out of a nice smile, a sharp wit and the kind of luck such prickish men always seem to have.  He is a people magnet, and it is immediately clear why people, even against their better judgment, are drawn to him like rats to the Pied Piper of Hamlin.  The two guys are on vacation in Amsterdam, with Matt hiding out in his hotel room, trying to write, but mostly contemplating suicide, and Davis out drugging and whoring.  Davis, determined to give Matt something to get rid of his depression, brings back a joint and a prostitute named Christina (Giti Lynn).  Act one follows this initial meeting of the three, while act two takes place the following winter in New York City where all three lives unexpectedly and tragically re-converge.  It is interesting to contemplate the fact that this generation, more so than any other, has the easiest access to information than any other, and yet, like all generations, is brought down by things that they feel will "never happen to them."(To tell any more of the story would be to destroy the joy of experiencing all this work has to offer its audience.)

Rapp's use of language is so "now", it is disturbing and funny and exasperating all at once.  The characters talk at Internet speed, an odd, but spot on conglomeration of college/Surfer Guy-speak ("Dude, that's like totally how it is, bro."), a seemingly endless stream of cultural/educational touchstones and pop cultural references ("Like, Henry Miller is a God, and [insert pseudo-intellectual author name from this week's NYT Best Seller list] here"), and a healthy dose of vulgar language that (for this generation) is devoid of any profane value, but is rather just the next step in level of extremes ("Good, better, best, "f*king awesome, buttf*ker!").  Rapp also infuses very graphic sexual sequences - masturbation, various permutations of oral sex and genital hygiene are discussed matter of factly - while sexual intercourse, both traditional and more violent, is depicted right before us.  What is amazing, and what really brings this play to the next level, is that none of the language, drug abuse or sexual content in the play is done for any gratuitous shock value.  It is, without exception, there to illuminate characters, and to literally and figuratively strip them (and us by proxy) of any inhibitions.  One can't help but be anything but honest when standing naked on the verge of a sex act. 

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James was first bitten by the theatre bug at the tender young age of 11, when, at the last minute, he was called upon to replace a classmate who, 42nd STREET-like, broke his leg, in a play, of all things, about the skeletal system! It was a trip to New York with his high school drama teacher to see Angela Lansbury in MAME that sealed his fate. As an actor, favorite roles include Sheridan Whiteside in THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER, Potiphar in JOSEPH..., Col. Pickering in MY FAIR LADY, and Sancho Panza?s ass in MAN OF LA MANCHA. After spending a summer feeling very conflicted playing both an apostle AND a high priest in JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, James' theatre career took a turn toward direction and design, including such varied productions as THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, LOST IN YONKERS, GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER and GRAND HOTEL, SIDE SHOW, THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD and SWEENEY TODD. James holds a Bachelor's degree in English from Towson University, with additional course work in journalism, dramaturgy, scenic design and stage direction. He is living proof that you can be a devout Sondheim fan AND love MAMMA MIA!

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