On April 30, 1951, the day playwright Craig Lucas was born, his mother took him to a gas station in Atlanta, Georgia and put him in the back seat of a car. She pinned a note to his outfit. It said that he was related to Admiral Dewey, the famed World War II military leader. It also said she could not afford to care for him.
Then she walked away.
Eight months later – around Christmastime – a Pennsylvania couple adopted Lucas, and he turned into a successful playwright with Prelude to a Kiss, Missing Persons, and Blue Postcards to his credit. Also this play, Reckless. “Rachel Fitzsimmons,” says Lucas about the story’s protagonist, “c’est moi.”
No she cest’ent. Rachel Fitzsimmons (Mundy Spears) is a flibbertigibbet who skates on the line between anxious and hysterical. She is the central figure in a series of improbable events, the first of which is this: it is Christmas Eve, and she is babbling happily about Christmas during her own childhood (before, presumably, the school bus ran over her mother) when her husband (Camron Robertson) announces that he has hired a hit man to kill her.
Minutes later, she is shivering in her PJs and slippers at a gas station, trying to get a friend to take her in, when Lloyd, a friendly motorist (Jim Zidar) offers her a ride. He takes her to the home he shares with Pooty (Tiffany Garfinkle), his deaf, paraplegic love, and Rachel agrees to live with them, abandoning her two young sons. After that, things get weird.
No one is reckless in Reckless. They are anxious and helpless, and sad, but not reckless. They are, by and large, deficient in common sense. (Did it ever occur to Rachel to call the police?) They lie about their past a lot in an effort to disown it. (“The past is a dream we wake up from,” says Rachel, who is to all of reality what Candide was to the world. “No,” Lloyd growls. “The past is a nightmare we wake up to.”)
The characters are not one-dimensional but by and large they sound one note: Rachel is anxious; Pooty is sweet; Tim Timko (Doug Krehbel), a game-show host, is contemptuous; Trish (Gale Nemec), Rachel’s boss, is cold, and so on. So what Lucas gives us is a series of unlikely stories about people with limited emotional ranges achieving largely catastrophic results. One of Rachel’s many therapists (all played by Hilary Kacser) simply assumes that the narrative Rachel supplies her with is merely a dream. You may have that impression too.
So why see this story, which Spooky Action is staging in their 16th Street digs? Let me give you two reasons right off the top: Mundy Spears and Jim Zidar. Spears has developed a remarkable talent for breathing life into weakly-drawn characters, and the Rachel she puts on the stage is compelling and magnetic. She makes the implausible plausible and the bizarre human. An actor like this can cover up a multitude of playwriting sins, and it will only be a matter of time before she is doing big roles for big theaters, and it will cost seventy-five simoleans to see her from five hundred feet away. Spend $20 to see Spears work for this small, agile company and you will have a close-up view of the actor’s art.
Closes October 28, 2012
Spooky Action Theater
1810 16th St NW
Washington, DC 20009
2 hours with 1 intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
Zidar is an Equity actor of thirty years’ experience who we rarely get to see in Washington. He does the roles he wants to do, and evidently this is one of them. Lloyd is unquestionably the richest and most fully-developed character in Reckless, and Zidar gets all of it – a lip-smacking performance in which he sows the seeds of every element of his character the moment he walks on stage. He is the picture of sweetness when he first sees Rachel, but at the same time we can see the menace and despair in his flickering eyes. As the many colors of Lloyd’s personality appear before us,we are prepared for them, and as he stands before us at the end, a sad man in a Santa suit, we feel as though we understand who he is.
The rest of the cast goes through its paces crisply and convincingly, though they do not rise to the level of Spears and Zidar, or need to.
Director Richard Henrich moves us along briskly, a wise choice for a play which calls for such suspension of disbelief. JD Madsen’s fine set is the equal to the play’s demands; Spooky Action transforms the setting from Rachel’s bedroom to gas station to Lloyd and Pooty’s home to many other locations smoothly, with the efficient use of set pieces which roll on from offstage. This is a sign that this long-struggling theater is stepping up financially, and is a tribute to Artistic Director Henrich’s persistence.
Reckless By Craig Lucas, Directed by Richard Henrich. Featuring Tiffany Garfinkle, Hilary Kacser, Dough Krehbel, Gale Nemec, Cameron Robertson, Mundy Spears and Jim Zidar. Sound design by David Crandall. Lighting design by Zachary A. Dalton. Set design by JD Madsen. Costume design by Lynly A. Saunders. Katie Key is the stage manager.Produced by Spooky Action Theater. Reviewed by Tim Treanor.
Editor’s Note: The entrance to Spooky Action Theater is now through the magnificent main door of the Universalist Church, rather than through the side alley.