×

Red Light Winter

With one foot in the buddy comedy of "Sideways" and another in the macho diabolism of Neil LaBute, Adam Rapp's riveting "Red Light Winter" oozes sexual intrigue and tension. Far and away the scribe's most commercial outing, this edgy, nudity-heavy drama continues Rapp's long-proven ability to articulate characters stuck on society's margins. But past works like "Blackbird" or "Finer Noble Gases" don't have anything like this level of narrative sizzle. And, the man has discovered the plot twist: This Rapp-directed Steppenwolf premiere is a Gen X-friendly jaw-dropper.

With:
Matt - Christopher Denham Davis - Gary Wilmes Young Woman - Lisa Joyce

With one foot in the buddy comedy of “Sideways” and another in the macho diabolism of Neil LaBute, Adam Rapp’s riveting “Red Light Winter” oozes sexual intrigue and tension. Far and away the scribe’s most commercial outing, this edgy, nudity-heavy drama continues Rapp’s long-proven ability to articulate characters stuck on society’s margins. But past works like “Blackbird” or “Finer Noble Gases” don’t have anything like this level of narrative sizzle. And, the man has discovered the plot twist: This Rapp-directed Steppenwolf premiere is a Gen X-friendly jaw-dropper.

Except for the need to excise a good 15 minutes from the running time, this uber-realistic affair could and should move to Off Broadway exactly as is. The young cast is top-drawer — and Rapp’s deft helming suggests he should have been directing his plays all along. Other people can upset their delicate balance.

Rapp also shouldn’t have taken so long to discover that plays need involving stories; most of his previous efforts have been languid, endlessly digressive, beautifully written affairs wrapped so tight around character that there was no room left for anything much to happen. But “Red Light Winter” is full of 180-degree turns and sexually charged surprises.

On opening night in the Steppenwolf’s experimental garage space, the audience barely moved a collective muscle for the duration. Since this is a three-character, two-set play with a running time pushing three hours, that’s a crackling achievement.

In summary, “Red Light Winter” sounds like a regular guy-falls-in-love-with-hooker play; indeed, it starts that way. Nerdy Matt (Christopher Denham) and hyperachieving Davis (Gary Wilmes) are an odd couple of old college buddies partying in Amsterdam, partaking in drugs and hookers. At least, that’s what the mercurial Davis, a self-obsessed publishing exec, is doing. Along with keeping his buddy company, Matt’s also trying to kill himself in their sleazy hotel room. But he’s too much of a loser to bring off his hanging.

Then Davis arrives with a gift hooker for pathetic Matt’s pleasure. She takes off her dress. He also gets naked. And that’s when things get really interesting.

The hooker — imbued here with a rich emotional life and played with haunting intensity by newcomer Lisa Joyce — is not what she seems. The pair has long, complicated sex, followed by an inestimably complex relationship that spills into the second act. Therein, a year has passed and we’re in Greenwich Village.

Matt cannot get over the girl, while she’s obsessed with the abusive Davis. Who or what floats Davis’ boat remains one of the play’s more interesting questions.

The core of the conflict, of course, is a warped love triangle. The play deftly evokes those stupid friendships we all maintain with assholes. It’s a clever portrait of sexual obsession that never quite shows its hand.

Rapp is a more emotional and gentler writer than LaBute, which means his characters have a softness that contrasts deliciously with the acidity of the plot.

Making Matt a playwright writing a play about his experience has its indulgent downside, though it does provide the chance for some wryly self-deprecating metatheatrical references. It’s also true that the second act fades slightly from the rigorous boil of the first. One also could make the case that all three of the characters could move just a nudge — and it would take only a nudge — closer to nuanced normality instead of being three deer stuck in the headlights of polarity.

Still, “Red Light Winter” could make a star out of Joyce, and the two Gotham-based dudes are no slouches. For sure, this will be Rapp’s deserved breakthrough play, after his “emerging” all over the place for years.

Red Light Winter

Steppenwolf Theater, Chicago; 80 seats; $15 top

Production: A Steppenwolf Theater production of a play in two acts by Adam Rapp. Directed by Rapp.

Creative: Sets, Todd Rosenthal; costumes, Michele Tesdall; lighting, Keith Parham; sound, Andre Pluess, Ben Sussman; production stage manager, Kerry Epstein. Opened, reviewed May 30, 2005. Running time: 2 HOURS, 40 MIN.

Cast: Matt - Christopher Denham Davis - Gary Wilmes Young Woman - Lisa Joyce

More Legit

  • CAROL CHANNING HERSCHFELD. Actress Carol Channing

    Remembering Carol Channing: A Master of Channeling the Power of Personality

    There was only one Carol Channing, and her outsize personality was a source of delight to many fans — and imitators. Gerard Alessandrini’s stage spoof “Forbidden Broadway” had many incarnations over the years, including the 1994 edition when an audience member was selected every evening to come onstage and impersonate Carol Channing with the cast. [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda Among Celebrities Remembering Carol Channing

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bernadette Peters are among the slew of celebrities taking to Twitter to pay tribute to late singer, comedienne and actress Carol Channing. Known for her starring roles in Broadway’s “Hello Dolly!” and “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” the legend of the stage and screen died Tuesday at her home in Rancho Mirage, [...]

  • What the Constitution Means to Me

    Listen: How Things Got Scary in 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    For a decade, writer-performer Heidi Schreck had wanted to write a play inspired by her experiences as a teen debater. But over the years the show started to develop into something both urgently political and deeply personal — and things got scary. In the Broadway-bound “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Schreck reimagines her speech-and-debate [...]

  • Carol Channing Dead

    Carol Channing, Star of Broadway's 'Hello, Dolly!' and 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,' Dies at 97

    Larger-than-life musical stage personality Carol Channing, who immortalized the characters of Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!,” has died. She was 97. Channing died Tuesday of natural causes at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Her publicist B. Harlan Boll confirmed the news. He wrote, “It is with [...]

  • 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    'What the Constitution Means to Me' Transfers to Broadway

    “What the Constitution Means to Me,” a buzzy Off-Broadway production that counts Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem among its fans, is making the move uptown. The play will come to Broadway this spring for a 12-week limited run at the Helen Hayes Theater. “What the Constitution Means to Me” is one part civics lesson, one [...]

  • Choir Boy review

    Broadway Review: 'Choir Boy'

    Honestly, I was afraid that “Choir Boy” — the sweetly exuberant account of a gifted prep school boy’s coming of age, written by “Moonlight” Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney — would be swallowed up in a Broadway house, after winning us over in an Off Broadway staging in 2013.  But aside from the odd set [...]

  • Jason Robert Brown

    Listen: How Ariana Grande Got Jason Robert Brown to Madison Square Garden

    Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown never expected to find himself performing onstage at Madison Square Garden. But he did — thanks to his pal Ariana Grande. Brown met Grande before she was a superstar, when she was in the 2008 Broadway cast of his teen musical “13.” The two have kept in touch ever since [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content