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Monday, July 28, 2014

Theater review: Red Light Winter

Posted By on Mon, Jul 28, 2014 at 5:19 PM

Loving someone is one of the most intense experiences in life, one that can change who you are and how you act. Yet as Adam Rapp’s Red Light Winter repeatedly demonstrates, mileage for the beloved may vary. For Davis and Christina, sexual encounters that were earthshaking to their respective partners are as forgettable as what you had for lunch two weeks ago, or which traffic lights you stopped at yesterday on the way to work.

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Beckoned by the comely Christina through a flesh-peddling storefront, Davis stops in Amsterdam’s red light district and, after some quickie lovemaking, hires her to cheer up his friend Matt back in his squalid flat. A despairing playwright, Matt is in mid suicide attempt when Davis and Christina show up at his door. So Matt isn’t merely cheered up by the French-speaking Amsterdam whore, his life is saved, and he falls deeply and obsessively in love with Christina in the few precious moments he has with her before she vanishes.

After Matt returns to America, Act 2 clarifies the double-barreled explosions that occurred before intermission. During the break, you can mull over the passion and the violence you’ve just seen, buy yourself a beverage at the UpStage bar, and brace yourself for more of the same in this fine Appalachian Creative Theatre production. Christina hasn’t forgotten Davis any more than Matt has forgotten Christina, so she shows up at Matt’s door in the middle of winter, desperately in search of Davis.

It’s a dream come true for Matt, who can now finally pour his heart out to Christina, but don’t expect a happily-ever-after ending for anyone — except for you, if you enjoy the spectacle of three very capable actors working well. Chris Herring, onstage locally far too infrequently, has Matt’s depression and obsession beautifully gauged, and Jenny Lee Wright is absolutely riveting shuffling through Christina’s multiple looks and aliases.

But I’m most knocked-out by Brian Seagroves as the asshole of the piece. Davis is definitely going to remind you of a couple of the bastards you may have caught recently in a pair of Neil LaBute plays, but there’s a raw, unsavory brutality that Rapp tacks onto his cad that makes him even more memorable. It’s a wonderful revelation of Seagroves’ true range if you only remember him as the clean-cut Lucentio in last summer’s outdoor edition of The Taming of the Shrew.

Give some credit to Caroline Renfro, in her directorial debut, for drawing the right mix of intensities from all her brilliantly chosen players. Kudos also go to Stephen Seay for his lighting design, dialect coach Alex Turner, and to Renfro’s FroShow Productions for the sound. The most important contributions to getting the visual impressions just right on two continents come from production designer Robert Lee Simmons, who provides just one more demonstration that we haven’t seen all that UpStage space can be.

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