Red Light Winter
Playwright Adam Rapp knows how to write crackling dialogue and understands the mechanics of character development, but somehow Red Light Winter, his play now at Washington's Studio Theatre, seems not worth the effort when everything has been said and done. Director Joy Zinoman has molded her three young actors into a sleek ensemble, but ultimately it's difficult to care.
The play takes a microscopically intimate look at the interrelationships between two male friends and a prostitute they meet in Amsterdam. Matt (Jason Fleitz), a struggling playwright, is overly sensitive and close to suicidal, while Davis (William Peden), an editor at a publishing house, is a macho jerk and a bully. In their prickly, combative way, they've been friends since college, and now they're turning 30.
In an attempt to cheer up Matt – who hasn't had sex since getting his heart broken three years earlier – hard-partying Davis takes him on a trip to Paris and Amsterdam. He finds Christina (Regina Aquino), a thin French gamin, working in the red-light district and brings her back to the hotel as a present for Matt. (Davis tells Matt that he did "fool around" with Christina himself, but only as a form of consumer protection. He wanted to make sure she was worthy of his friend.)
The evening has lasting repercussions for all three, which come into focus a year later when a very different incarnation of Christina shows up at Matt's apartment in New York. The general narrative path becomes obvious, although its occasional brutality still surprises and shocks.
By tightening the focus to the momentous things that can happen in small places, Rapp keeps the audience off balance as far as one major plot point: why Christina falls in love with predatory Davis rather than with needy, infatuated Matt. Christina seems convinced that Davis – whom the audience sees calling her insulting names, making fun of her difficulty speaking English, and generally acting like a pig around her – is a wounded soul hiding his tenderness behind tough talk.
The claustrophobic feeling of all this comes through in Debra Booth's two cramped scenic designs, the bare Amsterdam hotel room and Matt's cluttered, shabby East Village apartment; Kate Turner-Walker's dead-on costumes; and especially Jeavon Greenwood's props. These characters hold onto things, for example a cheap snow globe or a discarded piece of clothing, as a talisman promising some kind of fulfillment in the future.