note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
While children happily drift off to sleep, dreaming of Santa, toys, and sugary treats, a young housewife named Rachel undergoes a nightmarish, surrealistic, 10-year episode in Craig Lucas‘ bizarre Christmas tale, “Reckless”.
Lucas wrote “Reckless” in 1988, as a bizarre fable. In 2004, the play garnered success on Broadway, starring Mary-Louise Parker, then as a movie starring Mia Farrow in 1995.The award-winning playwright’s other hits include “Prelude to a Kiss” and “Light in the Piazza”.
A few years ago, when SpeakEasy Stage Company broke precedent during the holiday season by featuring Lucas’ dark comedy, it was a jarring one-act, 90-minute breach of holiday fare that seemed almost blasphemous, yet satisfying. SpeakEasy’s star-studded cast and crew made sure theatergoers got more than they anticipated.
In Salem Theatre Company’s two-act production of “Reckless” appearing through Dec. 22, the venue is smaller, cozier, and its cast members less known, but their timing and overall performances are captivating, under Artistic Director John Fogle’s deft direction. Larry Devlin’s homey, versatile set, Gregory Mancusi-Ungaro’s lighting, piped-in voices and music enhance the play’s trancelike tone.
The plot is kinda thorny, dreamlike, with coincidences, characters and circumstances too intertwined to be realistic - think Alice through the Looking Glass - but it works.
In the opening scene, Rachel, mother of two small boys, chatters incessantly. She’s is in a state of “high euphoria” on Christmas Eve, until her husband Tom reveals he took out a contract on her life, and her assassin is coming in five minutes. Weeping, he says he regrets his decision, then shoves her through the bedroom window to escape, as the unseen killer smashes through the door.
Nancy Gahagan as Rachel is a delightful, wacky mix of befuddlement and childlike naivete. Standing at a gas station pay phone, trying to convince her neighbor about her escape, she hangs up, resigned, because her neighbor thinks she’s joking. Suddenly, a shadowy, deep-voiced stranger named Lloyd (J. Garner Redmond) emerges from the shadows, offers Rachel a ride. He benevolently takes her to his home in Springfield, to live and work with with him and his pseudo-deaf, paraplegic wife, Pooty (Meredith McAlister) .
The three are running away from their pasts. They have twisted tales and have assumed aliases. They peacefully co-exist, revealing their secrets, while supporting each other.
A series of ill-fated turns and changes sweep them into an eyebrow-raising ending.
Actress Cyndi Geller’s versatility shines as several psychotherapists; Allen Vietzke is credible as repentant husband Tom, but foreboding as a silent, lurking ski-masked figure; and Andy Lisle as Rachel’s college-age son, Tom, is touching.
Perhaps Lucas‘ own unimaginable life makes everything here seem plausible, proving that, indeed, truth is stranger than fiction. According to biographical information, Lucas, a Boston University graduate, was abandoned at birth by his mother in a car in Atlanta, Ga. An FBI agent and his wife adopted him when he was a baby, so loss and abandonment are major themes in his writing.
BOX INFO: Two-act play by Craig Lucas, appearing with Salem Theatre Company (90 Lafayette St., Salem), through Dec. 22, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Tickets:$25; seniors, $20; students, $10. Visit www.salemtheatre.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or call 978-790-8546.