The primary reason to do holiday plays is commercial. More approachable than, say, Beckett or Albee, they tend to bring in folks who feel their cultcha quota could use a little end-of-the-year boost. The holiday theme becomes a familiar if smothering life jacket that poses and reassuringly answers the query "What about Christmas do you not understand?"
Theater Schmeater, 1500 Summit Ave., 800-838-3006, schmeater.org. $15â€“$22. 8 p.m. Thurs.â€“Sat. Ends Dec. 17.
Yet Craig Lucas' 1983 comedy of discomfort turns that smugness on its head. Naturally its heroine Rachel (Alyssa Keene) is a believer in all the Yuletide clichés—holiday lights, snowy branches, reindeer, star on the tree, etc. She yammers on so endlessly about them that her brooding husband Tom (Matthew Middleton) has contracted a hit man to knock her off. Relenting at the 11th hour, Tom shoves her out into the snow to escape.
Like Alice down the rabbit hole, the sheltered and idealistic Rachel is soon disabused of many a hackneyed holiday homily. The White Rabbit figure who picks her up is Lloyd (Carter Rodriquez), who, while not an axe murderer, is a pretty disturbed guy. His deaf/mute/paraplegic wife, Pooty—played bug-eyed by Megan Ahiers in one of the weirdest, most piquantly creepy performances of the year—embodies the kind of epic, everyday sacrifice that makes crucifixion seem jejune. Less satisfying are the torrents of psychotherapists (all played by Tracy Leigh) who try to make sense of Rachel's depression, and the colossal coincidences as characters from Rachel's past infiltrate her future.
In Reckless, life is random, and the meanings we assign to it, Christmas included, are arbitrary. Perhaps appropriately, director Carol Roscoe deploys her talented cast in a Twilight Zone world that makes no apologies for absurdity and few gestures toward verisimilitude. As events unfold on Michael Mowery's kitschy-minimalist set, people die, steal, and win game-show prizes—none of which seem plausible or "real" outside Rachel's head, which leaves you feeling off-kilter and unsatisfied. The play—or at least this staging—mutes Rachel's initial sparkle like a long, slow dimmer switch. But if you hate the oppressive holiday cheer, this may just be the play for you.