Theatre Exile presents a bitter menage a trois.
Last spring Theatre Exile had a major hit with the magnificent production of Tracy Letts' Killer Joe. Now Exile turns to another hot young American playwright with their absorbing production of Adam Rapp's drama Red Light Winter.
Red Light focuses on Matt (Matt Pfeiffer) and Davis (Ian Merrill Peakes), who after meeting in college, have both embarked on literary careers. Now in their late 20s/early 30s, the two Generation Xers couldn't be more different. Matt, a struggling playwright, is shy, introspective and depressed to the point of being suicidal. Davis, a hotshot editor at a publishing house, is extroverted and charismatic. The two are on vacation in Europe, and when we first meet them, they're spending the night at a run-down hotel in Amsterdam's red light district.
Rapp wastes little time establishing how dissimilar the friends are. As the play opens, Davis is prowling the streets for a hooker while Matt's in the hotel room looking for a sturdy hook to hang himself. Like everything else in his failed life, Matt's suicide attempt is unsuccessful, and when Davis (who succeeds in all endeavors) returns, he's accompanied by Christina (Charlotte Ford), a prostitute whom Davis has employed to raise his friend's spirits.
It becomes increasingly clear the characters are deceiving not only each other, but also themselves. Unable or unwilling to tell the truth, the relationship between the three is built on a series of fantasies and lies.
The dream world inhabited by this odd little group is as small as it is insulated. In the second act, when the play moves to Matt's cluttered Greenwich Village apartment (shrewdly realized in Bradley Helm's spare but effective set design), it's strikingly similar to the hotel room in Amsterdam. And although a year has passed since the night in Amsterdam, Matt and Davis' friendship remains unaltered.
The threesome Rapp depicts in Red Light is highly dysfunctional. Matt's obsessed with Christina, who's in love with Davis. Davis seems incapable of loving another person, and he treats both Christina and Matt with appalling callousness. It's a destructive triangle, with Davis reinforcing Matt's and Christina's feelings of worthlessness, and their adoration feeding his already massive ego.
Nevertheless, the lives of the three are so empty they continue to pursue their various fantasies. And under Joe Canuso's sharp direction, the performers are superb in evoking the sense of loneliness that dominates their characters' unhappy lives. Peakes in particular is terrific, and his magnetic portrayal of Davis is outstanding in capturing a young man whose cruelty toward others veils his own deep-rooted insecurities.
People often go to the theater to escape reality. Red Light Winter depicts just how devastating a flight from reality can be.
Red Light Winter
Through Nov. 12. $20-$25. Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 N. American St. 215.922.4462. www.theatreexile.org
In recent years InterAct Theatre Company has mostly produced either new or unfamiliar plays. But the company's latest is Manuel Puig's classic 1985 play Kiss of the Spider Woman--a production that proves mainstream theater can still be provocative and timely. Set in a Latin American prison, Spider Woman tells of the evolving relationship between a gay man, Molina (the captivating Frank X), and his socialist cellmate Valentin (Vaneik Echeverria). As a political revolutionary, Valentin's entire life is devoted to the "noble cause of Marxism." Molina's aspirations are more domestic, as he simply wants to spend his days in marital bliss with a caring husband. They're both victims of governmental oppression--Molina for his lifestyle and Valentin for his political views. The two are under constant threat of torture by their captors, making Spider Woman particularly relevant. But director Seth Rozin's production is not a critique of American foreign policy. Instead his astute direction keeps the focus on the intimate relationship between Molina and Valentin. Featuring commanding performances by both X and Echeverria, Spider Woman shows us that compassion can survive in even the harshest environments. (J.C.R.)
Through Nov. 19. $22-$25. Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St. 215.568.8079. www.interacttheatre.org
Mimi’s on the run. After five years of being whipped with burning wire, pummeled by bare fists and having her skull repeatedly smashed into concrete, the childlike 20-year-old—who’s had nearly 30 pimps since she was 15—is running as fast as she can from a life inside the teen-sex industry. Two months into her escape, she remains in hiding in New Jersey. If a former pimp catches up with her, she could be killed. Mimi hopes to find salvation in Philadelphia, at a safe haven called Dawn’s Place. Right now Dawn’s Place isn’t fully functional. The building is purchased and painted and permits are secured, but the board of directors is still seeking sustainable funding...
Calendar: Sept. 2-9