Returning To Winter
Youngblood Theatre’s remounting of the Adam Rapp drama RED LIGHT WINTER
Adam Rapp’s drama Red Light Winter returns to the stage of the Alchemist Theatre this month—a return to a production which had its run tragically cut short due to a random act of violence against a member of its cast. Staged this time in winter, the story of two men and a woman from Amsterdam to New York gains a certain stylistic depth from the cold winter whipping down Kinnickinnic Avenue just outside the Alchemist Theatre.
The decision to return to the production may have been as gutsy as picking it up in the first place. From a certain point of view, Red Light Winter is about as anti-commercial as theatre gets without being completely abstract and/or experimental. The story’s twin climaxes happen during simulated sex right before intermission and simulated sexual assault right before the end of the play. Yes, there’s full-frontal nudity and a subtle sexiness about it, but the nudity is there to bring a profound sense of vulnerability between two characters. The simulated sex is the emotional culmination of a conversation between two characters—the assault after a conversation of a different kind altogether.
There’s a kind of intellectual brutality to the story that feels more at home in actual winter. Two of the three characters are literary types.
David Rothrock plays Matt—a Henry Miller fan who has been painstakingly crafting a dramatic play for a very, very long time. Seeing Rothrock in the role again is interesting. Rothrock manages to absorb a tragic intellectual type. Much of the action of the play happens after his attempted suicide. Rapp’s script renders a deeply detailed picture of a specific person down to his favorite Tom Waits music. It would be so easy to gloss over the character and take him as a tragic intellectual archetype, but Rothrock embraces all those little intellectual details that Matt reveals about himself over the course of the script. It’s a remarkably detailed performance. He’s a man who lives so deeply in his own head—a man who probably over-thinks every last detail of his personal life, which is clearly why he hasn’t been successful. The brilliance of Rothrock’s performance is that he brings the complex intellectual details of the character over into the diction and speech patterns of the character. It’s a very convincing performance.
Andrew Edwin Voss plays Davis--the aggressive, alpha male intellectual that is the exact opposite of Matt. He’s a gruff and brutal jerk more fond of Raymond Carver than Henry Miller. There’s an aggressive charm of Voss in the role that plays well against Rothrock’s performance. I’d read previous reviews of the show that suggested that Matt and Davis were actually different aspects of the same person—Matt Davis. Seeing the play for a second time, I watched for the Chuck Palahniuk/Fight Club/Tyler Durden element of the story. It actually kind of works if you think of the story as all going on entirely in Matt Davis’ head.
The biggest distinction between the two characters lies in how they are relating to a French prostitute named Christina who turns out to be a Midwestern girl named Annie. Tess Cinpinski continues to harbor some of the play’s best moments in silence. On the surface, this woman, who is the main conflict between the two men/personalities. The more we see the two men, the more they become the center of the story. This is an ensemble piece, but we are seeing both Matt and Davis (and arguably Matt Davis) through the eyes of Christina/Annie. Cinpinski does far more in silent reactions to Matt than the script allows her to do for much of the rest of the play. Cinpinski has brilliant poise . . . even if the particulars of the character don’t quite come across. Rapp is asking an actress to deliver a totally convincing French accent that nonetheless shows vague twinges of a Midwestern American accent that Matt guesses to be from Green Bay. That’s a very specific kind of voice and it would be very, very difficult for anyone to deliver. Cinpinski’s presence as Christina/Anna lends a tragic beauty to the stage in a production that continues to be provocative well into its remounting.