BWW Reviews: Azeotrope's RED LIGHT WINTER and 25 SAINTS Brim with Dark Passion and Power
There are some aspects of life that most of us don't delve into. Dark aspects that are all too common in the world but we've been fortunate enough to avoid. But it seems as dark and unseemly as these areas of life are, Azeotrope is determined to pull back the rug and take a good look at what skitters out whether it be prostitutes and infidelity or meth and murder, as is evident in their current offerings in repertory over at ACT, "Red Light Winter" and "25 Saints". And while we may not want to look straight into the maw of these seedy underbellies, what results are two stirring and intense bits of theater put on with Azeotrope's usual intelligence and power.
In their first offering, Azeotrope is remounting one of their first productions they produced three years ago, Adam Rapp's "Red Light Winter" following two friends from College on a trip to Amsterdam and the aftermath of one bizarre love triangle with a prostitute from the Red Light District. And in the second, they tackle a fairly new piece from Joshua Rollins, "25 Saints" which looks into the dark world of meth dealers in rural West Virginia as things spiral out of control for three trapped people just trying to escape their circumstances.
Both plays have a palpable intensity resulting in a roller coaster of emotions but by performing them in rep, they compare and contrast two very different takes on how some people can feel disposable and give a wide range of acting challenges for the actors especially for Richard Nguyen Sloniker, Tim Gouran and Mariel Neto who appear in both pieces. And director Desdemona Chiang has taken the two pieces and infused them each with a sense of almost misguided hopefulness while giving each their own distinct pacing but keeping each still vibrant and engaging.Sloniker, Gouran and Neto are each reprising the same roles they took on three years ago in "Red Light Winter" but, if you were lucky enough to see the previous production, you can see how each has settled more into themselves and into the roles. Sloniker with his hopeful but damaged Matt, Gouran with his brash and utterly selfish Davis and Neto with her yearning Christina. And as before I must mention the gorgeous voice of Neto as her song in the show is bound to rip you heart out. And then to catch them in their very different roles in "25 Saints" only shows their amazing versatility. Gouran may have been utterly unlikable yet wildly charismatic in the other piece but in "25 Saints" he manages a kind of desperate sweetness in the face of an unwinnable situation. Sloniker's transformation isn't as great as he's still playing a good guy in a bad spot but he still manages to put forth a stunning performance. And Neto has a much smaller role in this piece but her drug addled yet spiritually introspective monologue is worth the price of admission. But the piece is definitely more focused on the doomed relationship of Gouran and Libby Barnard as meth cookers Charlie and Sammy who yearn for a better and safer life. Barnard matches Gouran's quiet powerfulness perfectly with a stunningly heartbreaking turn as they attempt to escape from the clutches of Sheriff and Duffy, played by James Lapan and Mary Murfin Bayley who turn in two very internally sinister performances as the drug lords in power.
I managed to see both of these pieces in one day and while I can totally recommend that experience in the vein of seeing two superb works and thrilling performances as they evolve from one to the other, they are both quite dark so they may be best in smaller doses in order to keep your own psyche intact. But I can still recommend them both individually as Azeotrope once again shows they know how to handle these kinds of pieces with grace, thoughtfulness and honesty.
"Red Light Winter" and "25 Saints" perform at various times through November 24th at ACT. For tickets or information contact the ACT box office at 206-292-7676 or visit them online at www.acttheatre.org or www.azotheatre.org.
Photo credits: Benito Vasquez and Todd Hobert