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Love And Other Human Remains Are Painfully, Funnily Shattered In New Theater Group's 1st Major Production

COLLATERAL AMSTERDAMAGE: Brendan Ragan and Giti Lynn get to know one another.

By Bret McCabe | Posted 8/15/2007

Red Light Winter

By Adam Rapp

At the Theatre Project through Aug. 19

Adam Rapp's Red Light Winter is a simply complex, hatefully funny, and beautifully ugly look at the familiar and the fresh. On the surface the play explores the collateral damage that young twentysomethings-becoming-thirtysomethings inflict on themselves and each other; thematically, it mines even more clichéd territory about love and friendship. And yet something about the way Rapp dissects his characters, plot, and situations allows him to take such shopworn themes and reassemble them from a slightly different and revealing angle.

In what may be Rapp's greatest achievement here, he has casually captured the way the benign and malignant coexist in young adult's lives, from how they choose to live and who they chose to befriend to what they say to each other: Red Light Winter's most impressive facet is recognizing the claustrophobic life and death importance of the utterly normal--and being unflinching enough to show the common horrors of today's quotidian anxieties.

The current run of Red Light Winter is the first major local production of Single Carrot Theatre, a new local company of young people who, apparently, moved here en masse in the past year from Boulder, Colo. Davis (Aldo Pantoja) and Matt (Brendan Ragan) are 30-ish friends from college wintering around Western Europe--currently in Amsterdam. Davis is the sort of confident, fast-talking alpha male who kung-fus into a room. Matt is a nerdy playwright who has been "emerging" since winning a postcollegiate award and unable to finish anything since. And when the play opens, he's trying to hang himself with his belt.

That he not only doesn't succeed but fails with a nearly slapstick pratfall speaks highly of both Rapp's storytelling and Ragan's performance. This superficially chaotic two-act play is structured with a sly formal symmetry that sustains the story's need for the desperate and the dunderheaded never to be that far away from each other. And Ragan comes very close to personifying that unbalanced equilibrium in Matt's nebbish neurotic. Yes, such a character is cookie-cutter stock since even before Woody Allen, but how Rapp and Ragan bring him to life--and how Matt becomes both the expected pathetic fool and oddly empathetic exterminating angel--is one of the many reasons why it's difficult to assume you know just where everything is headed.

Before Matt can try to off himself again Davis returns to the room with the comely Christina (Giti Lynn) on his arm. She's a French prostitute he picked up, fooled around with, and brought back as a gift for Matt, who has been through a dry patch since his ex left him. And what starts as a lads' night with drugs and a pro becomes something resembling a psychological love triangle that's been rearranged with a ball-peen hammer. Eventually everything gets somewhat explained--the reason for Matt's opening act, the reason why Christina's French accent sounds a little off, the reason why Davis feels he should help Matt get laid--but the basic plot is secondary to what the characters endure as it moves toward its excoriating end.

Neither Davis nor Christina is as internally complex as Matt; fortunately, Pantoja and Lynn find ways to make them work best they can. Pantoja might have the hardest job, trying to rein in what a thermonuclear douchebag Davis is even though every actorly instinct probably tells him that Davis would never be that self-conscious. Lynn's Christina is the most notable performance--if only because Christina uses self- and social deception as self-preservation, and Lynn has the precarious job of trying to lend depth to a character who relies on facades just to breathe.

If this Single Carrot production is flawed--and it is--it's only because the company has aimed so high. Red Light Winter is nobody's idea of a casual night at the theater--when the lights finally go up you're not feeling good about people--but that Single Carrot chose it to introduce itself to Baltimore speaks exceptionally well for the ambition this company wants to bring to local stages.

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