KPBS AIRDATE: November 24, 1993
It’s Thanksgiving-time, and the air is already crowded with Christmas carols. Right about now, they still sound fresh and lilting, but pretty soon, you’re gonna start screaming at the thought, let alone the sound, of Jingle Bells, and one more Ba Ra Pa Pa Pum may send you staggering to the Pepto bottle — or the gun closet. That’s about the time you’ll be ready to head downtown to see “Reckless” at the Fritz Theatre.
The halls are decked, the tree is lit. It’s Christmas eve, and Rachel is curled up on the sofa with her husband; the kids are in bed, and she snuggles closer, warning him that she’s about to have one of her “euphoria attacks.” But before she can say “Christmas puppy,” he informs her that he’s taken out a contract on her life and she’s got five minutes to put on her slippers and escape from the house before the killer breaks in through a downstairs window.
Rachel is thrust into Christmas hell, hurled from one unexpected horror to the next, over a seemingly endless series of Christmas eves. Most of her family is wiped out, and some of her friends. She becomes by turns ecstatic and catatonic, loved and lost, patient and doctor, disillusioned, but indomitable. You get the feeling she was born with some kind of indestructible hipboots on, allowing her to wade through the swamp of her life, eternally searching for — and appreciating — a little patch of dry land.
It’s as quirky a Christmas story as you’re likely to see, and you can tell the Fritz folks are loving it. The play is an offbeat little curiosity from writer Craig Lucas, who’s probably best known for “Prelude to a Kiss,” another weird little, inside-out fairy tale. Lucas tends toward the glib and facile at times, spouting pithy maxims like “The past is the nightmare you wake up to every day,” or “The moral is, You can’t be afraid to take a risk.” Most endearing, though, is Rachel’s “Everything happens for a reason” philosophy, despite her persistently ‘Why Me?’ kind of life.
Each of the seven actors gets a brilliant moment in the spotlight, from Barcy Stricker’s psychiatrist reliving the birth trauma, to John Steed as hilarious gameshow host, to Ron Choularton’s rage in a Santa suit, and David Kornbluth’s touchingly troubled young son. But always in the eye of the storm is Heidi Wilson’s centered, focused Rachel, a woman unraveling in brightly colored bits of string. She seems weirdly real, despite her surreal surroundings.
Director Dwayne Daniels plays up this duality, and it isn’t always easy, with an unending series of short scenes in constantly changing locales. The piece has a slow rise time and a lot of draggy spots, but it’s so twisted and unpredictable that it keeps sucking you back in, and Daniels goes with that erratic rhythm — to great effect.
As Christmas fare, it’s delicious, the perfect antidote to fruitcake and sugar plums. It’s dark all right, but there’s light at the end of this funhouse tunnel. Get your ticket; it’s a wild ride.
….And while you’re there, stick around for the Fritz’s late-night weekend offering, a warped little time-warp, “Sexual Perversity in Chicago.” It’s playwright David Mamet in all his misogynistic glory, but the ultimate perversion in this production is, those godawful guys are played by swaggering, swearing women, and those petty, bitchy women are played by mewling men. Not my favorite play, even with the gender-bending Fritz-twist, but it sure brings up all the stomach-churning nausea of seventies singles life. Depending on your sex and your sensibilities, it may make you gag — or guffaw.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1993 Patté Productions Inc.