Produced by Studio Theatre
by Debbie Minter Jackson
The Studio Theater’s production of Red Light Winter takes cold to a new dimension with the blustery drafts, howling winds, and frosted windowpanes. For talented playwright Adam Rapp, not even freezing temperatures can match the cold of unrequited love involving two friends straddling between Amsterdam and New York City. With characters as sharp as icicles, Red Light Winter explores friendship, obsession, devotion, loyalty, and hope under the pervasive specter of unhappiness and death.
On the surface, the two post-college roommates, Matt and Davis couldn’t be more unalike-however, don’t even think Felix and Oscar -the buddy relationship between these two sinks to all time lows. Matt, the “nerdy” one with all the physical ailments, and stifling emotional issues is paired with the strapping, good looking, though rather heartless Davis, played by the exceptionally talented Jason Fleitz and William Peden respectively. Despite their night and day contrasts, they are strangely equally yoked in their passion for words, wordplay, playwriting, and favorite authors. Whether their endless banter is about the lasting impact of certain novelists, or obscure definitions of physical protrusions, they are a matched set, like twins that got perversely different nourishment from birth. They complete each other, push each other to the absolute limit, but in their own dysfunctional way, are there for each other.
The play opens with Matt obviously not having his best moments, attempting to hang himself with his belt strapped around the wall hook. The hook doesn’t bear his weight and breaks off at the exact moment that Davis suddenly enters bursting at the seams, characteristically full of himself. Once he finally introduces “Christina’ who’s been waiting outside the door, it becomes clear that he bought her services for his cherished “bro,” who is indeed, much in need of caring and compassion. Though obviously more attracted to the gorgeous though dangerous Davis, Christina also played to perfection by Regina Aquino, shares some tender moments with Matt who sees through her false accent, astutely interprets her chanteuse rendition of a song, and treasures every millisecond of their time together. The second act explores the intersection of their lives a year later in New York City.
Playwright Adam Rapp in graphic and explosive fashion dares us to reconsider our own definitions of friends, lovers, and sex workers. For example, although Christina worked the infamous red light window district in Amsterdam, and accepted payment for sexual favors, she seemed emotionally grounded and primed for a relationship. She was smitten enough by Davis to ask for his address, which is how she ended up at their door a year later. In the second act after she’s had her share of unfair shafts by fate and life, she discovers that Matt is prepared to offer her warmth, comfort, food, the shirt off his back, adoration, and yes, even love. Still, she opts to become one with the cold rather than live in the disease ridden world without her fantasy Davis, who proves to be as cold and brutal as the freezing Nor’eastern winds.
In typical Studio fashion, all aspects of the production design team worked together creating a flawless rendition of two strikingly different settings, set design by Debra Booth and lighting by Michael Giannitti. The neon red window border catapults you directly to that infamous sex-on-the-spot district. Finally, Joy Zinoman’s unflinching directing, reminiscent of her work on another full-throttled male bonding piece, brothers in Top Dog, Under Dog, makes you wonder what kind of demonic genius she channels from within. Be very afraid, and enlightened.
Described as “a modern age love story with jagged edged,” Red Light Winter, though not for the faint of heart, will not disappoint.
Red Light Winter plays at Studio Theatre’s Mead Theatre, 1501 14th St, NW, Washington, DC.
September 13 – 30. Tuesday thru Sunday evenings and matinees Saturday and Sunday. Tickets range from $29 to $48. www.studiotheatre.org