by Michael Dale
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Adam Rapp’s Through The Yellow Hour is that the playwright/director has intentionally written a piece that will never be performed with a completely age-appropriate cast – at least not legally in this country – since it includes a fully nude, sexually suggestive scene between a thirty-year-old character and another who is fourteen. But because the person playing the youth is obviously of age, the scene is likely to leave audience members thinking of the older character as someone who has learned to trust and be caring again, rather than as someone committing statutory rape.
Of course, the age of consent may have been lowered a bit in Rapp’s apocalyptic vision of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Major American cities have been bombed with both explosives and germs by… well, you know… and surviving men are being castrated while healthy young girls are being harvested, presumably for procreation. Even worse, audience members get stamped on the neck with a red circle on their way into the auditorium and the playwright never tells us why.
Once inside, though, we can admire Andromache Chalfant's splendidly detailed work creating a claustrophobic East Village apartment crumbling from blown out windows and a collapsing ceiling. (The kind of place where a character originated by the playwright’s brother might have lived.) Keith Parham’s shadowy lighting with sharp beams of sun forcing their way in and Christian Frederickson‘s sound design depicting the war zone outside are also excellent. The most foreboding aspect of the visual design, however, is the on-stage toilet; especially if you believe Mr. Rapp isn’t above using it as a stand-in for a Chekhovian on-stage gun.
Speaking of gunplay, the evening begins with the apartment’s inhabitant, a nurse named Ellen (a tense and daring Hani Furstenberg), shooting an unexpected visitor (Brian Mendes), whose dead body spends the next several weeks slumped in a corner, apparently never decomposing, causing a stench or attracting rodents. He may have been just a poor bloke looking for food, but nobody can be trusted in this new world and Ellen hasn’t left the place since her husband has been missing; living on a seemingly endless supply of canned peaches and trading painkillers for means of survival.
An expected guest, drug-addicted Maude (Danielle Slavick), has arrived to hand over her baby girl who, if deemed healthy, can be shipped to a better life through a connection of Ellen’s. Since there’s a big bathtub smack dab center stage, Maude strips down and takes a bath, but when she’s done she puts her grimy, smelly clothes back on instead of, perhaps, rinsing them out a bit first.
Rapp keeps our attention by dishing out information about what the heck is going on in tiny morsels involving Muslims, corporations and mysterious “Egg Heads,” and for the most part, despite lapses of logic, it’s a popcorn-worthy thriller that crosses into B-movie camp only with the arrival of a businesslike doctor (Matt Pilieci) and a deadpan, icy official (Joanne Tucker); both dressed by designer Jessica Pabst in cartoonishly futuristic pristine white getups. They seem to be performing some kind of barter, exchanging the girl for the nervous farm-raised teen (Vladimir Versailles).
With the arrival of a seriously wounded man (Alok Tewari) with information about Ellen’s husband, the dialogue turns to gruesome details of what’s happening to men who are captured, putting some pretty disgusting images into audience members’ heads.
At 100 minutes, Rapp and the strong, committed company provide an enjoyably tense diversion that, as such projects are known to do, warns us of a (hopefully) avoidable future.
Photos by Sandra Coudert: Top: Hani Furstenberg, Brian Mendes and Danielle Slavick; Bottom: Joanne Tucker, Matt Pilieci and Hani Furstenberg.
After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular audience participation murder mysteries (try improvising with audiences after they?ve had two hours of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring free live theatre to underserved communities, and dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an email, actually) to become BroadwayWorld.com's first Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows Michael can be seen at Shea Stadium pleading for the Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared celebrities making their stage acting debuts by starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.