Reckless by Craig Lucas. Directed by Mark Brokaw. Set design by Allen Moyer. Costume design by Michael Krass. Lighting design by Christopher Akerlind. Original music and sound design by David Van Tieghem. Cast: Olga Merediz, Debra Monk, Michael O'Keefe, Mary-Louise Parker, Rosie Perez, Thomas Sadoski, Jeremy Shamos.
Again and again in Reckless, one question keeps popping up: Can you ever really know anyone? A better question for the people involved with the show's new Broadway production might be: Do any of you really know Reckless?
The Manhattan Theatre Club-Second Stage Theatre co-production of Craig Lucas's play, which just opened at the Biltmore, is an erratic hodge-podge of unfocused glitter and gaiety. And though the production, under the direction of Mark Brokaw, is not unattractive, Lucas's wily meditation on the tenuous nature of identity is itself here experiencing its own debilitating identity crisis.
Reckless is a slickly warm, yet zany dark comedy, often lying just on the borders of the mundane. Characters and situations seem to exist as if in a waking dream, just a heartbeat away from dissolving into nothingness and making you wonder whether they ever really existed at all. And from the first scene, set on Christmas Eve, when the "terminally happy" Rachael (Mary-Louise Parker) must leave her old life behind when she learns that her husband Tom (Thomas Sadoski) has taken out a contract on her life, the show's unreal nature is in high gear.
But as this production follows Rachel on her journey - which encompasses a number of years, and several different states - it seems as if it, too, is never completely sure what may be taken at face value. New characters like the friendly Lloyd (Michael O'Keefe) or his mute paraplegic girlfriend Pooty (Rosie Perez) float on and off, making only minor impressions before vanishing again. As the story unfolds and each character's various lies and obfuscations are exposed, it becomes more and more clear that the production's forced ethereal quirkiness is doing the actors - and the audience - few favors.
Perhaps most affected is Parker, so effective in her last (Tony-winning) Broadway assignment as the scattered Catherine in David Auburn's Proof, yet here never able to pinpoint the personality of a woman lost in a very different way. Parker's Rachel is cursed with a dizzying sense of sameness throughout most of the play, a quality dispelled only in the final scene, when the similarities between the woman Rachel was and the woman she currently is work for the character instead of against her. This results in a truly touching denouement.
That this scene is also one of the few unfettered by drastic diversions from reality is not coincidental. Much of the rest of the time, Lucas makes his points by way of gaudy symbolism (Rachel, Lloyd, and Pooty participate in an unsettling game show titled Your Mother or Your Wife) or slapdash scene plotting (Rachel, on the skids at one point, is dragged onto an unexpectedly violent talk show). And though Lucas is always subtly building up to the play's final, moving moments, it's a dangerous tightrope walk.
Brokaw's directorial eye is keen enough to prevent a fall, but doesn't provide many legitimate thrills along the way. The play moves, if at times sluggishly, and wants for a strong jolt of either outright earnestness or side-splitting comic vision, though it receives neither. Brokaw's work is adequate, but never as blithely creative as a play this unrealistic requires. Allen Moyer's set pieces often convey stark (if discordant) realism, and neither Christopher Akerlind's lights nor Michael Krass's costumes conjure up much magic of their own.
Genuine enchantment comes from only Debra Monk, who plays six different doctors that counsel Rachel on her emotional, spiritual, and geographic travels. Her characters are innately kind, but also professional and downright weird, and Monk traverses the borders between their qualities so well that she appears to be the only person onstage truly at ease with the unusual nature of the material.
Perez has suppressed most of her spicy individuality as Pooty, and never renders her a complete (or very interesting) person; her one-line rantings as a homeless woman late in the show prove infinitely more entertaining and characterful. Sadoski's manic frustration almost always reads as overacting while he's portraying Tom, though he turns in a remarkably honest and understated performance as another character later. Olga Merediz as a brusque office worker and Jeremy Shamos in a number of wacky ensemble roles get their fair share of laughs.
Those laughs, while welcome, are few and far between in this oversized and empty production; so are moments of honest reflection and emotional engagement. These problems might be easily correctable if not for the lack of people, on stage and off, capable of bringing out the tenability in this dreamlike show. Only Monk implicitly understands the style, and while she's wonderful in everything she does here, her roles aren't large enough to make a significant difference.
At the very least, this production of Reckless is professional and never nightmarish. But it also doesn't take sufficient steps to ensure that audience members taking it in won't be lulled into their own dream world, if one of a very different - and unwanted - kind.