Story: Matt and Davis are Americans in Amsterdam for a good time. Trouble is, the former college roommates and 30-somethings are somewhat polar opposites. Davis is a rakish ne’er-do-well, an editor who is on the fast track after plucking a novel from obscurity and seeing it shoot to the top of the charts, courtesy of Matt’s recognition of its artistic merit.
On the other hand, Matt is a starving playwright who can’t get over being dumped by his girlfriend two years earlier. He’s so low in self-esteem that he still hangs around with her and her fiance, Davis. And he seems chronically ill as well.
As Matt suffers away in their tiny hotel room, Davis arrives with Christina, a young woman of the night he has ‘befriended.’ She has a French accent, says she is a singer and then negotiates a price with Davis for servicing the shy, reclusive Matt. Naturally, Matt over-reacts and falls seriously for the attractive but mysterious Christina, who asks not for his home address but for Davis’, who says he can help further her entertainment career.
A year later, back in New York, Matt is surprised by a knock on the door to his forlorn apartment. It’s Christina, who is searching for Davis and has some terrible news, too. Matt has suspicions about Christina’s true identity and also her motives, but his yearning for her trumps any doubts, which may only make his situation worse.
Highlights: A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2006, Adam Rapp’s dark and dangerous drama offers three choice roles for performers to shape with their own interpretations. That’s exactly what director Eric Little entrusts to his trio of players in this local premiere at HotCity Theatre, with fulfilling results.
Other Info: Rapp’s two-act work is stark and sinister, as he gradually reveals elements in Christina’s mysterious background while also underscoring the master/servant relationship between Davis and Matt.
It takes place on the somewhat bizarre set designed by Alan Chlebowski, which oddly features five-foot walls and doors, as if to make the characters larger than life, particularly Davis. The shabby interiors of both the hotel room and apartment are cluttered with depressing knickknacks, courtesy of properties master Meg Brinkley, starkly illuminated by Chlebowksi’s lighting design.
Patrick Burks offers a sound design of Tom Waits tunes that hauntingly underscores Matt’s loneliness and desperation, while Emily Montgomery’s costumes match the personalities of the characters.
Reginald Pierre seems to get better with each successive performance, and this is no exception. His Davis is brimming with confidence and macho swagger, as Davis sees Christina as nothing more than a pleasant romp that satisfies his immediate needs. Yet he also has an odd devotion to his nearly invisible friend, attempting in his own way to help Matt find just a smidgen of happiness.
Austin Pierce is convincing as the tortured soul of Matt, who is obsessed with the proper use of the English language but mystified by the human soul. When Matt goes over the top into creepiness, we can only shake our heads in pity while recoiling from his extreme behavior.
At the core of this drama is the enigma known as Christina, played out with seductive and persuasive charm by Maggie Conroy. She gradually reveals more and more about this sexy but distant young woman whose flirtatious ways mask her own sad and complicated history.
Little keeps his foot on the throttle of the uneasiness and unhappiness at the core of Rapp’s sobering story, extracting fine performances by his trio of players, who are up to the challenge. Red Light Winter is sometimes graphic, frequently surprising and consistently engaging.
Play: Red Light Winter
Company: HotCity Theatre
Venue: Kranzberg Arts Center, Big Brothers Big Sisters Building, 501 North Grand
Dates: March 20, 21, 22, 23, 27, 28, 29
Tickets: $15-$25; contact 289-4063 or hotcitytheatre.org
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Todd Studios