BWW Reviews: Playhouse on Park Goes to the Edge with RED LIGHT WINTER
RED LIGHT WINTER
Theatre: Playhouse on Park
Location: 244 Park Street, West Hartford, CT
Production: By Adam Rapp; Directed by Dawn Loveland; Lighting Design by Ryan Kelly; Costume Design by Erin Kacmarcik. September 20 & 22; Friday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 7 p.m. Tickets $18-$20, visit www.playhouseonpark.org.
"Live fast and die young" seems to be the mantra of the new series "Playhouse on the Edge" at West Hartford's Playhouse on Park. Instead of kicking off the company's 5th anniversary season with a big, multi-week run of Shakespeare (that comes next with Othello), the theater opens with a brisk - and I mean brisk - three performance run of Adam Rapp's 2005 play, Red Light Winter.
By segregating three cutting-edge productions for a two or three-night run apiece on its new series, Playhouse on Park sticks its toe into offerings that might not be able to draw a wide audience. This is a bit of a shame as Red Light Winter stands among the finest work this company has offered on its intimate stage. Yes, you only have two more chances to see the production and if you are reading this review on Monday, September 24, you are already too late.
I attended the first night of the three-night engagement and there were no first-night jitters among the company, the physical elements were top-flight, and the direction completely assured. In other words, Red Light Winter works so unnervingly well that one would assume this theatrical event was in the midst of a long run with no closing date in sight. Nothing about it is disposable or extraneous.
The play opens in a dingy red light district hostel in Amsterdam. Davis, an annoyingly assured book editor has dragged his insomniac, hypochondriacal friend Matt from his home in New York for a European getaway. Fragile and splintered, Matt is consumed by depression and suicidal thoughts when Davis arrives with a prostitute in tow. True to Davis' proto-American ethics, he believes the best prescription for what ails Matt is to get laid. Christina, one of the many hookers who sit in storefront windows, gets drawn into the odd dynamic that exists between these unlikely college buddies. A bizarre love triangle begins to emerge, complicated by the secrets and deceptions that lurk among the trio.
Shannon Michael Wamser tears into Davis with brio. Rather than flinching away from the unpleasantness inherent in the character, Wamser manages to telegraph the role's fierce intelligence burrowing underneath the callousness. Although Rapp's script fails to make the case for why Davis cares for the mess that is Matt or why Matt would allow himself to be dragged in his wake, Wamser manages to find the few moments in the text illuminating that there is more to Davis than base hungers for sex, drugs and glory.
Zoe Farmingdale's performance as Christina is a slow burn. Entering the scene as a sultry, sexualized commodity, Farmingdale peels away layers over the course of the two acts to reveal something far more nuanced, unsettled and skittish than what first appears. In many ways, the story is deceptively Christina's and the actor subtly charts a course that is devastating. Only one small complaint exists and that is the character's French accent seems to take off in Paris and land somewhere closer to Krakow.
Kieran Mulcare delivers hands-down the finest performance I have seen onstage this year and am likely to see. It is just that mind-blowing. Skittish and fractured in the first act, his Matt is like a caged animal scratching and biting itself. In the second act, Mulcare undergoes a jaw-dropping transformation finding levels of joy, warmth and bravery in a character that evidenced no possibility of those traits. Although I will not spoil the denouement of the play, suffice to say Mulcare makes one hope for the best and fear for the worst for Matt.
Perhaps spurred on by the brevity of the run, director Dawn Loveland keeps this mostly talky play moving at a clip. She allows the action to pause and breathe when needed, allowing the audience to absorb the poetry and muscularity of Rapp's language. Her sympathies seem to lie with all of the characters, thereby assuring that Davis is not merely a two-dimensional cad and Christina not a whore-with-a-heart-of-gold.
To repeat, the production only has two remaining performances before it has to make way for Shakespeare's Moor of Venice. I applaud Playhouse on Park for making a little room in its schedule for theatre of a more challenging nature. Let's hope that this series finds its audience fast and that we see many more like it. This is one instance where it is okay to run a Red Light. Go, go, go.