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A CurtainUp Review

Do you think we ever really know people? ---Rachel
Mary-Louise Parker
Mary-Louise Parker (Photo: Joan Marcus)
A funny thing happened to Craig Lucas's Candide-like Christmas fable, Reckless, between its 125-performance 1988 0ff-Broadway run and its current reincarnation in the elegant Biltmore Theater. Lucas's world vision has turned ever darker and his play endings tend to contradict the famous 1897 New York Sun letter reassuring young reader that "Yes, Virginia there is no Santa Claus." Rachel, the prone to " euphoria attacks" Reckless heroine gets a pretty horrendous wake-up call when the husband and father of her two sons confronts her with the confession that he's hired a hit man to kill her. She is forced to flee and face the harsh truth that it's hard if not impossible to really know other people and that we lead reckless lives in which "things just happen." However, in this early work Lucas does allow his heroine to keep making the best of it. In fact, he leaves us with a touchingly optimistic finale that allows us to wonder if Rachel's harrowing Christmas and the surreal journey it seeds was just a nightmare.

The play itself hasn't risen above its standing as a somewhat overly fanciful modern suburban variation on Dorothy in Oz and Alice down the rabbit hole which, like Prelude to a Kiss, has become familiar to regional theater and movie audiences. It seems almost odd for MTC to revive Reckless given the fact that they've been focusing on David Lindsay-Abaire's newly written, fresh twists on this style of absurdist tragi-comedy (Fuddy Meers also had a character in a ski mask and Wonder of the World was about a suburban wife going on a journey of self-discovery on her own steam). But then again, it's not so odd when you consider that Mary-Louise Parker, the actress who has given new meaning to adjectives like incandescent and luminous, is the new Rachel.

Parker infuses this big comic portrait of an innocent abroad with charm, laugh pulling finesse and potent vulnerability. She also brings a certain historical resonance to this production having starred in Lucas's Prelude to a Kiss and played a supporting role (Pooty) in Reckless, the movie. This historic link is strengthened by reuniting Parker with Mark Brokaw who directed her in the Pulitzer Prize winning How I Learned to Drive and also helmed several other Lucas plays.

Brokaw has used his considerable skills to make the play's surreal humor percolate. MTC and its co-producer, Second Stage, have spared no expense to make this a great looking show and to give its star a stellar supporting cast. Thanks to the handsome staging and splendid performances, it's easy to forgive the play's somewhat less than freshly perked flavor.

Our first view of Rachel looks like the cover of a Hallmark Christmas Card, with Parker chattering away while her depressed husband Tom (Thomas Sadoski) tries to warn her that she must leave their cozy double bed before the killer he inexplicably hired to do her in arrives. Sadoski has his own star turn in the last of his two additional roles, as the grown up son who brings Rachel's voyage (or nightmare) full circle.

The assorted characters peopling Rachel's new life add their share of hidden complexities. There's physical therapist Lloyd (Michael O’Keefe) and his wheelchair-bound, deaf and mute girlfriend Pooty (an amusingly atypical Rosie Perez), who invite her to share their Christmas and to move in with them. Lloyd and Pooty get Rachel a job with a world charity organization where Roy (Jeremy Shamos) is the director and a sour, Christmas hating bookkeeper named Trish (Olga Merediz) hilariously keeps Rachel tethered to drudge tasks. Though Shamos mines his second role as Tim Timko, the host of a neon-lit TV game show called "Your Mother or Your Wife" for every possible laugh, this garish scene goes on way too long. Debra Monk is priceless as six different therapists -- especially as a nun whose previous identity as a bus driver epitomizes the playwright's ability to pull disparate threads together.

Like many plays that attempt to combine surreal comedy with serious underpinnings, Reckless stumbles into cartoon territory. Fortunately Mary-Louise Parker's Rachel is warm and human enough to give this revival a dimensional feeling. Perhaps one day Craig Lucas will write a serious play for her about a woman who needs to learn how to survive even without being wrapped in the cocoon of complacency and comfort. But then didn't a fellow named Ibsen do that with a woman named Nora?

Small Tragedy
This Thing Of Darkness
The Dying Gaul
Blue Window
Fuddy Meers)
Wonder of the World

Written by Craig Lucas
Directed by Mark Brokaw
Cast: Mary-Louise Parker (Rachel); Olga Merediz (Trish, woman patient); Debra Monk (Doctors One through Six); Michael O'Keefe (Lloyd); Rosie Perez (Pooty, Sue); Thomas Sadoski (Tom, Man in Ski Mask, Tom Junior); and Jeremy Shamos (Roy, Tim Timko, Talk Show Host).
Set Design: Allen Moyer
Costume Design: Michael Krass
Lighting Design: Chris Akerlind
Sound Design: David Van Tieghem
Running time: 2 hours, including one 15 minute intermission
MTC and Second Stage at Biltmore Theatre 261 West 47th Street ( Broadway/8th Avenue) 212/239-6200
From 9/23/04 to 12/05/04; opening 10/14/04.
Tues through Sat @ 8:00PM, Sun @ 7:00PM, Sat & Sun @ 2:00PM beginning 10/19/04 Tues through Sat @ 8:00PM, Wed, Sat, & Sun @ 3:00PM
$79.00 & $53.00, Wed Mat -$69.00 & $53.00
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 10/16/04 press performance
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