by Lynn on January 13, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Unit 102 Theatre, 376 Dufferin St. Toronto, Ont.

Written by Adam Rapp
Directed by Anne van Leeuwen
Set by Pascal Labillios
Lighting by Steve Vargo
Sound by Tim Lindsay
Cast: Luis Fernandes
Omar Hady
Chloe J. Sullivan

A bracing, sometimes unwieldy play by prolific American playwright, Adam Rapp.

The Story. Two friends—Davis and Matt–are on vacation in Amsterdam. Davis is a smooth-talking, macho, womanizer always on the hunt for the next sexual experience, never mind that he’s engaged. Fidelity is not one of Davis’s strong points. Davis is a hot-shot book editor who got lucky with one book and now his star is rising. Matt is his insecure, twitchy, sad, fragile-minded friend who is struggling to be a playwright. He’s very unlucky with women. Christina is the hooker Davis saw in one of the ‘windows’ in the Red Light District of Amsterdam. He engages Christina to spend the night with Matt to make him feel better about himself. Davis of course tries her out first to see that she passes muster.

The Production. The play opens on Matt trying to write and not being able to do it. He’s having a bad time. While he and Davis share a hotel room, I thought it spoke volumes that Matt’s bed is neatly made and Davis’s is not. Perhaps I’m looking too hard here—would the housekeeping staff have made Matt’s bed and not Davis’s? I thought it an interesting touch in Pascal Labillois’s set and in Anne Van Leeuwen’s direction.

Davis just doesn’t quietly enter a room when he can charge in like a martial arts warrior, complete with ear-splitting cry. He weaves; he bobs; he talks a mile-a-minute, with esoteric, literary references to show off his intellect; he makes fun of Matt. And he brings Christina with him. Davis comes on to her. She is charmed by him. When they had sex earlier she thought he was kind. In an interesting way, Rapp has turned the tables here. Usually it’s the hooker who puts on a good show to make the customer think that he is so special. Here it’s Christina who thinks she’s special to Davis.

When Matt and Christina are left alone, Matt pours out his heart to her and feels that he has made her think well of him, differently than she does with other customers. The audience knows the truth in both cases. Davis is the focus for both Matt and Christina. They both love him in their own way. It’s clear what he thinks of them.

The performances go to the heart of each character. As Davis, Luis Fernandes is a prowling, dangerous, predator. He knows how to move in close to appear interested and sensual when it comes to Christina, and he knows how to mess with Matt’s head to twist him up in his own fragile mind. As Matt, Omar Hady has a haunted look; twitchy demeanour, and the manner of a man ravaged by doubt and insecurity. Christina is common to both of them, and as played by Chloe J. Sullivan, she is sexually alluring to Davis and more compassionate to Matt in their various meetings. Director Anne van Leeuwen has created a tight ensemble that mines the various layers in Rapp’s play.

However, I found the ending muddy. Matt thinks that Christina has left him, yet her bag is on the floor by his leg. Does he not see it? Is this a mistake? Is it left there on purpose and he still thinks she’s gone? Confusing.

Comment. Adam Rapp wrote Red Light Winter in 2006, in his mid-career. It was considered for a Pulitzer Prize. It has all the engaging hallmarks of his work; dark subject matter; flawed characters and dialogue that is compelling, ‘crunchy’ and dazzling in its turns of phrase. He’s not afraid to create a character like Davis who, on the surface, is a charmer, but in reality is a despicable creep, without redeeming qualities.

At times it seems less like the character of Davis is speaking and more like the playwright is showing off—Davis does tend to riff on his own linguistically brilliance. And at times Rapp does go off on a tangent when some judicious cutting would be in order. But he does know how to get to the wounded heart of a character. For example, Matt has a speech in Act II expressing his longing for Christina that is heart squeezing.

Another compelling production by Unit 102.

Presented by Unit 102 Actors Company

Opened: Jan. 12, 2016
Closes: Jan. 23, 2016
Cast: 3; 2 men, 1 woman.
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.


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