Review: ‘Rainbow Kiss’

Actors dearly love a mad scene, and in "Rainbow Kiss," Peter Scanavino shows he can gnash and thrash with the best of them, delivering a disturbing portrayal of a lonely young man from Aberdeen who's driven to violence by his obsessive fixation on a trampy girl.

Actors dearly love a mad scene, and in “Rainbow Kiss,” Peter Scanavino shows he can gnash and thrash with the best of them, delivering a disturbing portrayal of a lonely young man from Aberdeen who’s driven to violence by his obsessive fixation on a trampy girl. But scribe Simon Farquhar seems a bit fixated himself, lavishing far too much attention on his protagonist’s morbid mental state and neglecting to draw a straight thematic line to his real point — the dehumanizing social conditions of an economically depressed city slowly slipping into an anarchic state of violence and madness.

Lurking in this play, which bowed at London’s Royal Court in 2006, is an angry social-protest message in the naturalistic vein mined in decades past by the likes of Edward Bond, Snoo Wilson and Trevor Griffiths. But embedded references to economically depressed Aberdeen’s lack of jobs and opportunities remain embedded, smothered by the enormity of one man’s personal distress — and the sheer intensity of Scanavino’s performance. 

Keith (Scanavino) is a young man with no future. Stuck in a dead-end job and abandoned by his wife, he shares his squalid slum flat with his 8-month-old son and has nothing to look forward to but the drink-and-toke visits of his neighbor Murdo, a kindly old rummy played with heart by the invaluable Robert Hogan. Although Keith doesn’t seem hooked by a devilish drug habit, he owes a lot of money to Scobie, a scary loan shark who drops by periodically in the chilling person of Michael Cates to cut him up when he can’t make the vig.

Into Keith’s abjectly miserable life steps Shazza (Charlotte Parry), a cheerful beautician who already has a boyfriend but couldn’t resist the look of sexual starvation she got from Keith at the pub. A bit of trash, but nice for all that in Parry’s smart and sexy perf, the lusty Shazza is just what Keith needs. And with a saucy toss of her head, she throws herself into their rough-and-ready sex scenes (staged with raunchy realism by helmer Will Frears) with enthusiastic abandon.

But for Keith, who is tottering on the brink of a breakdown, Shazza is soon transformed from a one-night stand into an overwhelming fixation. “You walked inti ma’ one-bedroom world ‘n’ I hung on you all the wonderful, all the pretty things, like a fuckin’ Christmas tree,” he tells her, adding the hard-won piece of insight that “obsessive love is a mental illness ‘n’ no’ a poetic vice.”

The problem with the play is that it takes Keith far longer than it takes the audience to recognize the difference between true love and mental illness. And while we are rewarded with some fine fireworks from Scanavino, who puts body and soul into Keith’s disintegration, patience does run out.

But it doesn’t run out as fast on Farquhar’s writing, which is good and tough and touched with an abrasive lyric tongue, especially in those quiet scenes between Keith and Murdo that offer brief glimpses of the world they live in. This is the world that needs to be brought onstage, because as it now stands, there’s no “there” in the “anywhere” visual context of the production. But what the eye can’t see, the ear hears, and thanks to Stephen Gabis’ excellent coaching on the low-class Aberdeen accents, it’s pretty clear we’re not in Kansas.

Rainbow Kiss

59E59 Theaters; 98 seats; $35 top


A Play Company presentation of a play in two acts by Simon Farquhar. Directed by Will Frears.


Set, Thomas Lynch; costumes, Sarah Beers; lighting, Tyler Micoleau; sound, Drew Levy; production stage manager, Rachel E. Miller. Opened March 22, 2008. Reviewed March 25. Running time: 2 HOURS, 10 MIN.


Shazza - Charlotte Parry Keith - Peter Scanavino Murdo - Robert Hogan Scobie - Michael Cates

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