Monday, November 23, 2009

Marianna Bassham hits the road in Reckless.

It's getting harder and harder to get your holiday sentiment straight up these days, because alternative Christmas shows always come with a twist, and there seem to be more and more of them every year. Over at the Huntington, the carolers are warbling about the Civil War, fer chrissakes, and the New Rep is once again turning the pages of The Santaland Diaries. So it's no surprise that SpeakEasy should re-purpose Craig Lucas's Reckless this season - hell, it's set at Christmastime, ain't it? And you know, it's vaguely gay and outrageous and all. Alas, it's also a little thin, and its wacky, surreal mood dates it as surely as the early personal computers dotting its plot. Unsurprisingly, SpeakEasy's selling point for this revival has been not the play itself but its cast, which is, indeed, a line-up of local theatre royalty. Still, director Scott Edmiston hasn't actually gotten their best out of any of them, and he doesn't quite seem to understand the actual arc of the script.

Still, he keeps things festive - that's his specialty, and Edmiston puts a nice shine on just about every joke Lucas leaves under the holiday-comedy tree. Trouble is, Lucas doesn't really lavish the one-liners on this "dark," frothy tale of the hapless Rachel (Marianna Bassham, above), a suburban Pollyanna whose husband announces he has taken out a contract on her life. On Christmas Eve, no less. Does it get any more outrageous than that? No, girlfriends, it doesn't.

Poor Rachel, of course, is soon dashing through the snow - until she's saved by the kindness of a stranger, the mysteriously glum Lloyd (Larry Coen), whose nom de guerre is "Bophetelophti" (har de har), and whose wife "Pooty" (yuk, yuk!) is a deaf paraplegic (Kerry Dowling, all above left).

I know, ka-razy!!! At this point it's probably good to remember that the script opens with Rachel shaking a snow globe in a "euphoria attack," and back in the mid-80's, Lucas no doubt thought he too had a right to turn the holiday over and shake it hard. After all, the threat of AIDS - omnipresent and terrifying in the 80's - is clearly what's being filtered into his wacky pseudo-hetero scenario, with its lovers who can kill you, or end up in wheelchairs. So far, so good. Trouble is, the script comes over as second-hand Christopher Durang, as more horrors and bizarre coincidences pile up around Rachel faster than reindeer poop at the Pole. And the script's two extended parodies of game shows have long since been surpassed in grotesquerie by the actual targets of their satire.

Still, this crack cast keeps us laughing - even if they can't quite chart the arc that Lucas has embedded beneath the surface of the material. Transference is this playwright's obsession (and great theme) - and via various transferences, life begins to slowly make sense - and even beneficent sense - around poor Rachel once again. Even here, however, you could argue that Reckless has been surpassed by the work of David Lindsay-Abaire, and at any rate, under Edmiston's direction, Bassham doesn't quite trace Rachel's descent into catatonia step by step, as she should (Coen does better by his similar collapse). Even once everything turns mysteriously, mystically around, I'm afraid Bassham is a little too subdued; surely more must be hanging, at least internally, on her series of discoveries in the final scene.

Paula Plum goes all therapeutic on Marianna Bassham.

All that said, Reckless does have a few holiday treats up its sleeve. For one thing, it's got Paula Plum, who tears through several hilarious caricatures of therapy (above) without batting an eye, or dropping an accent. There's also sharp work from Will McGarrahan, Karl Baker Olson, and especially Sandra Heffley, whom we just don't see enough of around here. Cristina Todesco's set, aglow with upside-down tannenbaums, is as witty as Charles Schoonmaker's kitschy costumes, and Dewey Dellay's weirdly whimsical soundscape is everything it should be. SpeakEasy has definitely wrapped this package right; if only it didn't feel like last year's present.

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