BWW Reviews: RED LIGHT WINTER from Azeotrope
Emerging theater company Azeotrope is presenting their debut production with Adam Rapp's Pulitzer nominated play, "Red Light Winter". And while I'm not sure how I feel about the play itself, I know how I feel about the production, excited by the engaging performances and thrilled that there's another new company out there willing to take on new and different works.
The story to the play is a simple one. Two former college friends, Matt and Davis, take a trip to Amsterdam. The braggadocio book editor Davis goes out one night and brings home a prostitute, Christina, for the introverted playwright, Matt. As the play opens, Matt is at the end of his rope, literally, Davis is just out looking for his next good time and Christina is just trying to make her way through life the best she can. So when these three flawed individuals are thrown together, old wounds are reopened and new ones are made in this self destructive love triangle.
I can definitely see why people were drawn to this play when it was first produced. It's smart, edgy, raw and filled with hyper-articulate language, the way we all wish we were in real life but few rarely achieve. And the structure is not like your average play as it's not so much plot driven as it is a relationship piece. It examines less the situation and more the people involved. And while I'm fine with that, some of the greatest plays of all time are like that like "The Glass Menagerie"; the big problem I run into with the structure of the show is its self referential nature. In Act Two, playwright, Matt, is writing a new play based on the meeting of this trio one year prior. And while the audience is realizing we're watching the play that the character is writing, the character of the playwright begins to explain the odd structure of his show. And that's where he lost me. It seemed like a little bit of literary masturbation as the author is pointing out to his audience how different he is through one of his characters. Almost pointing out, "look how clever I am." I guess I would equate it to the old saying, if you have to explain a joke then it's not funny. But as a relationship piece, it definitely works.
Beyond whatever short comings I feel the play has, the production was solid and engaging and the performances outstanding. But then, they managed to wrangle some of Seattle's acting heavy hitters on stage. Tim Gouran is deliciously offensive as the narcissistic Davis. In order to make this bad boy everyone wants work he would need to have charisma and Gouran has that in spades. Seattle newcomer Mariel Neto is lovely as the ever searching Christina and has a beautiful voice to boot. And Azeotrope founder and Seattle heavy hitter in his own right Richard Nguyen Sloniker is heartbreakingly charming as the sweet and emotionally broken Matt. He infuses his character with so much subtle, just under the surface tragedy that you cannot help but feel for him. His laser focus performance manages to never become maudlin despite his overwhelming emotions.
And this dysfunctional trio is helmed by director Desdemona Chiang who directed one of my favorite fringe shows of last season, "Ching Chong Chinaman". She once again demonstrates how she can deliver real and engaging characters complete with all their flaws and souls intact.
So while the play itself is not my favorite work, the performances here are definitely worth seeing if only to get to see the some of the A-list of Seattle theater sink their teeth into such meaty roles. And kudos to new company Azeotrope for tackling grittier works like this. I'll be intrigued to see where they take it from here.
"Red Light Winter" performs at Theatre Off Jackson through November 13th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.azotheatre.org.