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A CurtainUp Review
Red Light Winter
The play opens in a room near Amsterdam’s Red Light District. Matt (Matt Pfeiffer) and Davis (Ian Merrill Peakes) are doing the time-honored young American continental tour. These two adolescent 30 year olds should’ve gotten over their precocious frat boy phase a few years back. The successful, untrustworthy Davis, who is engaged to Matt’s old girlfriend, brings him a prostitute (Charlotte Ford) who "understands the value of a job well done." Davis ought to know. He tested her out three times. Ian Peakes plays the cad Davis with antic, savage enthusiasm. We see a whole nother side of Peakes, who is just coming off his role as the upright, faithful John Wheelwright in A Prayer for Owen Meany over at the Arden. Matt, the self proclaimed King of Nerdville, is magnificently, humbly portrayed by Pfeiffer, a fine actor and Associate Artistic Director at Theatre Exile. Charlotte Ford, trained in LeCoq-based physical theatre, finesses the complex job of acting the truthful and lying Christina, the prostitute.
Very much a young person’s play, it’s a This Is Our Youth with fewer clothes and more sting. We hear everybody’s stories, and everybody’s lies, in incandescently brilliant dialogue. The actors make this compressed, creative talk ring real. They are phenomenal —all three of them— in giving the language the cadence of normal conversation that it demands. Even more remarkable than the radiant handling of dialogue is the physical dimension of the acting, including the long, awkward prelude to the brief, mechanical, but very realistic sexual encounter, which is of huge consequence to Matt, but means nothing to Christina.
At first Helm’s set, dressed very realistically, looks like a shoestring operation. Appearances can be deceiving, however, and by Act two the set has changed and grown and acquired running water.
Red Light Winter relies on good acting and believability of situation. They’ve got the acting down cold. The believability part has some issues. I can accept big questionable things, like the unenlightened handling of the AIDS question, but I have a hard time getting past a niggling, problematic detail: the handling of how to get certain vital props where they need to be later. The young woman leaves two large items behind in the first act. One is an old analog tape recorder with songs on it. Why would the prostitute lug around an unwieldy old-fashioned tape player/recorder? And why would she purposely leave it? The second item is much more crucial, and she has no apparent reason for leaving it there either. Leaving these props does not suit the realities of the story, only the realities of the stage. It is retrofitted motivation. What is the character thinking, "You’ll need these for the second act"?
It’s a brave play, and director Joe Canuso has the patience and the heart for it. More than once there is no hesitation to leave a character alone on the stage to kill fairly extended periods of time. It can be amusing, and maybe heart rending to see what they do when alone. Funny and fast, the play is also kind of gross. Eventually everyone applies deodorant, and someone’s intestinal problems are amply described.
Act two finds Matt, obsessed with Christina, back in the East Village some time later writing a play about the three of them in Amsterdam. "They’re all star-crossed or whatever." Then she turns up. He’s besotted with Christina, yet she can’t even remember his name, his face, or any other part. With a wonderful, ironic symmetry, the scene will happen again, recast, and the object of affection will draw a blank.
Adam Rapp’s play, hilarious and irreverent, hard and raw, is about characters at an extremity. It’s truth and lies, clever patter and heartbreak.
Editor's Note: For CurtainUp's review of this play when it opened in New York go here.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide