Opening Nights: Red Light Winter

Red Light Winter

ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., 292-7676, $25–$30. Thurs.–Sun. Ends Nov. 24.

Adulthood is supposed to bring maturity. When it doesn’t, some hapless souls get stuck in a revolving door of post-adolescence, hoping that either expectation or inertia might somehow lead to responsibility, self-fulfillment, and happiness. Red Light Winter is a play about a trio competing in the Tough Mudder that is life—and instead of helping one another rise above a rising tide of circumstances, everyone’s trying to stand on the others’ shoulders. Drowning may result.

It’s also a tale of alienation, over-education, and the selfish choices people make when they think no one is looking. At the bottom of the heap is Matt (Richard Nguyen Sloniker), a suicidal “emerging” playwright who might actually emerge—if he weren’t so terrified of the world and hiding in his ratty little abodes. During a winter trip to the sex salons of Amsterdam, his former college roomie Davis (Tim Gouran) returns to their hostel with French hooker Christina (Mariel Neto), supposedly to help Matt get over his cheating ex-girlfriend. As it turns out, the ex was cheating with Davis, and now they’re married. Oh, and Davis banged Christina three times before bringing her back to Matt as a peace offering.

Act II begins in New York a year later. Matt’s obsession is now no longer his ex, but the Amsterdam one-night stand who left a red gown he now regards as her surrogate. Christina shows up unexpectedly because (of course), cad that Davis is, he gave her Matt’s address rather than his own when she asked for it. Suddenly she’s back in Matt’s room, nothing like what she originally represented herself to be, and her memory of him is as vague as his is clear. Cue Davis, who drops by while Matt is out retrieving food for the woman of his dreams, and Davis . . . cannot remember who she is, either. Until finally it dawns on him: “Oh,” he says with a knowing smile, “you’re that whore.”

There’s an ugly dénouement to Adam Rapp’s 2005 drama, a sort of psychological bloodbath where all the injuries are internal. The New York playwright has a gift for dialogue that echoes the darker side of Woody Allen. Apart from a few comic asides, there are multitudes of moments in Red Light Winter when you wish, absent any compassion among these three, one would have the good sense to Get the Hell Out of There.

In Azeotrope’s second staging of this piece, with the same fine cast as its 2010 debut production, Desdemona Chiang again directs this maelstrom-in-miniature with near-balletic grace. She lets Rapp’s characters stalk one another in concentric circles until there’s no place left for refuge. None of the nude scenes feels gratuitous; they only compound the characters’ vulnerabilities and missed opportunities to make amends.

In an odd way, Red Light Winter makes perfect Halloween fare. After all, what’s more horrifying than seeing someone suffer, then looking on as they drag everyone else down with them?

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