The whiff of acting-class improv permeates the intimate two-hander “A Year of Stolen Light.” “OK, you’re Ziggy, a foul-mouthed crack ho, and Brad is your cleaned-up ex-boyfriend who rescues you from a Denver blizzard. Go!” Alex Aves has penned a string of fraught situations in which she and Justin Zachary can go through the motions of reminiscing, coupling and battling against addiction’s maelstrom. What she has yet to uncover is a play.
Doling out exposition with an eyedropper, Aves imagines Brad having holed up with a recently deceased poet who, in some unspecified fashion, helped the kid find his footing off drugs. By contrast, Ziggy’s mentor Jimmy has been dealing body blows along with her crystal meth, so she’s more than ready to hasten her melancholy end unless Brad can light her fire in more ways than one.
The meandering give-and-take and reliance on addicts’ cliches — they’re needy, fidgety, mercurial — invest the play with its logy improv air, as does the inability to sustain the illusion of frigid cold. The impressively moody lighting (presumably by tech director David Carreno) can only do so much when characters blithely display exposed skin and don’t bother rounding up all the blankets and comforters the dead poet’s unheated cabin can yield.
“Stolen Light” may not have emerged from an academic exercise, but Aves certainly seems to have drafted the best guy in class, lean and hungry, as her scene partner. Zachary’s preternatural stillness — eerily appropriate to an ex-junkie on the edge — keeps giving way effectively to rage and longing, and a search for a prized copy of Dante relates thesp’s objective to his physical surroundings (despite the sputtering payoff once the book is discovered).
Aves invests her role with no such grounding. As worked out with helmer Tim McNeil, a stubbed toe causes the exhausted, near-frostbitten waif to hop one-legged, as if in a sack race, from beginning to end. Meanwhile, Zachary’s underplaying renders Aves’ overdone gestures and self-conscious giggling doubly unconvincing. This “speed freak” easily adds a half hour of indulgent pauses.
Acting guru Stella Adler, for whom show’s studio was named, preached reliance on truthful given circumstances. Surely she’d have remarked that even crack addicts don’t wear holey fishnets (the universal symbol for easy virtue) in midwinter Colorado when they can barter material goods for jeans. She might suggest a lover’s reaction of distaste to the unshowered vagabond who just serviced a filthy bum for his Percodan.
A keen eye could point out the tendency of those with injured feet to keep testing their weight bearing, or walking on the heel when the toe is affected. At the very least, Stella would fault Ziggy’s absence of fatigue after an all-nighter of hopping, and the absence of reaction whenever that foot happens to touch terra firma.