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Wasted and Wounded
Red Light Winter: A NoDef Theatre Review
Frivolous tales of summer lovin’ could be the perfect respite for audiences during these hot days when checking the weather is mostly redundant. But Broken Glass Productions’ debut, Adam Rapp's 2006 Pulitzer Prize finalist Red Light Winter directed by Harold Gervais, is no cheap thrill.
Showing at The Shadowbox Theatre (2400 St. Claude Ave.), the play is a love story, but whenever two or more men are gathered around the same woman, love’s nobler intentions are derailed. Red Light Winter is the making and undoing of a doubly unrequited bizarre love triangle.
College buddies, described as dickish and macho Davis (Matt Story) and quiet and nerdy Matt (Richard Mayer), travel for leisure to Amsterdam where magnetic and lost Christina (Nicole Rae) of the Red Light District is exchanged between them. This lady dressed in red is injected into a friendship already on the fritz. Their academic jousting often devolves into minimizing each other’s success and amplifying the other’s failure. Aside from the initial playful eroticism and each of the three characters’ charisma and wit, appropriately depleted by Act II, this drama, like an ancient Greek tragedy, doesn’t soften any edges.
The choice to produce this play couldn’t be more suitable for the cozy space at The Shadowbox, given the settings of a guest room of a hostel or a New York City apartment. Red Light Winter’s claustrophobia is magnified because the sets are virtually the literal size of the small quarters in which the characters are condemned. What’s more, the audience is subject to on-stage smoking and partial and full nudity from the whole cast. These atmospheric qualities, set against the dreariest of the seasons, create an especially intense and charged audience experience. In a larger theatre, attendees might be able to elude the blows of the harshest moments. But in this case, the audience is in the lion’s den with the suicidal playwright, the oafish fool and the deceptive prostitute, breathing in the same smoke.
The use of on-stage smoke from actual cigarettes and what could or could not be a joint is a bold attempt to authenticate the theatre experience for actors and audiences alike. Exploiting the sense of smell in the show’s opening scene may be invasive, but it’s more of a welcoming to this production’s commitment to delivering a challenging play with unrelenting directness. A few in the audience may have coughed or been startled, fanning themselves with their playbill. However, all were ultimately lulled, if not aided by a faint contact high, into the cramped Amsterdam hostel.
Mayer’s Matt is played with a feisty anxiousness balanced with heavy sensitivity. This dualism of nervous energy and obvious emotional vulnerability is written all over Mayer’s well-deep eyes and fidgeting body. While everyone else is trying to evade or seduce, his focused stares provide a large dose of emotional sincerity. Rae’s Christina is a vision; her floor-length, low-cut red dress certainly does not wear her. In a room of boy-men, her cool manner, lounging aloofly on a bed and sipping iced coffee, suggest this is her typical scene. Everyone is entranced.
Story’s Davis, full of puppy-dog charm mixed equally with bad-boy arrogance, bounces around Christina. There is no confusion who has paid for her services. He offers much comic-relief at the outset, playing with his voice to deliver lines in teasing and sarcastic tones. But his silliness is, at times, traded in for cruelty. Having convinced us that he’s a macho clown only further dramatizes his shift to darker tendencies.
As mysteries about Christina’s identity unfurl, one might miss her initial, sultry and collected persona. It is eventually replaced by a different kind of girl who, though greatly troubled, seems whiny and flat. Perhaps Adam Rapp expected Christina’s extenuating circumstance to carry the character along. When not in the red dress, Christina is weak and afraid, but, when in that garment, she’s both parts muse and harpy.
In a metaphysical monologue toward the end of the final act, Matt agonizes how his own play (based on the love triangle that we, the audience, is watching) should be resolved. Is Rapp confessing his own anxiety about what to do with this cumbersome triangle? After Matt expresses his doubt, the play reaches a nearly absurd level of tragedy. Not that life evenly spreads out catastrophe, but has Rapp’s narrative earned the slue of worst-that-could-happen whammies? Along with the final heavy blows, Tom Waits’ "Waltzing Matilda" groans throughout the play as the default soundtrack. A moral may be hard to come by in Red Light Winter, but the message is clear: these kids are, as Waits croaks, wasted and wounded.
Dead Huey Long, Emma Boyce, Ian Hoch, Sarah Esenwein, Will Dilella, Chris Rinaldi, Lianna Patch, Phil Yiannopoulos, Cate Czarnecki, Jonas Griffin, Jennifer Abbot, Mary Kilpatrick, Elaina Patton, Mike Horst, Devin Bambrick, Katherine McGuire, Norris Ortolano, Joe Shriner
Michael Weber, B.A.
Assistant Managing Editor
B. E. Mintz
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Minced Media, Inc.