Regional Reviews by Nancy Grossman

SpeakEasy Stage Company

Marianna Bassham, Larry Coen
and Kerry A. Dowling

It is human nature that we like to see uplifting shows associated with the holidays, and often they have some magical element at the heart of the story. Consider the biggies like A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life. Thinking outside of the box, playwright Craig Lucas, who is known for weaving fantasy and reality in his writing, conjured up Reckless, which The New York Times called "a bittersweet Christmas fable for our times." It also happens to be an entertaining and thought-provoking piece of theatre as mounted by Director Scott Edmiston at the SpeakEasy Stage Company. Cristina Todesco's imaginative sets, lit surreally by Karen Perlow, transport us to another world.

We're just not exactly sure where this is all happening, or if it is all happening. Most of the half dozen psychiatrists visited by the protagonist Rachel (a mesmerizing Marianna Bassham) seem to think that everything she describes happened in a dream. Surrounded by brightly glowing Christmas trees, some suspended upside-down in midair, and three black doors of assorted sizes a la Alice in Wonderland, Rachel is not always sure that what she is experiencing is real either, but she learns to go with the flow as she re-imagines her life while relying on the kindness of strangers. Her journey is long and arduous, both joyous and scary, but ultimately fulfilling. Along the way, she questions if we ever really know anybody and comes to know herself in the process.

The play opens on Christmas Eve as an over-excited Rachel prattles to her disinterested husband Tom. Suddenly, he bursts into tears and informs her that he has put out a contract on her and she must hurriedly escape into the cold, snowy night before the hit man arrives. Rachel climbs through the bedroom window that serves as her rabbit hole, meeting a variety of characters and setting in motion all sorts of fantastic happenings. She encounters Lloyd at a gas station and rides off with him to meet his wife Pooty, a deaf mute paraplegic. After Rachel spends the holiday with them, the couple invites her to stay on, helps her to get a job and refers her to a psychiatrist. Although all three have their secrets and hidden identities, Pooty thinks Rachel ought to talk to somebody about her seemingly irrational fear of being followed by a masked gunman.

Paula Plum shows once again why she is an acclaimed audience favorite as she nails the portrayals of a six-pack of shrinks, none of whom you'd want analyzing your life issues. While aided by distinctive wigs and clothing styles, the accents and antics are pure Plum, including a spot-on Ernestine Tomlin-esque probing interrogator type and a Slavic practitioner of primal scream therapy. Reminding us of their versatility, Will McGarrahan and Karl Baker Olson change outfits and personalities a couple of times, too. McGarrahan is the rumpled, bleeding heart director of the not-for-profit humanitarian foundation who hires Rachel, as well as the typically unctuous host of the game show "Your Mother or Your Wife" on which the trio of Lloyd, Pooty and Rachel appears. As the host, McGarrahan is ably assisted by Olson in drag, draped in a floor-length red sheath with long blonde locks and bright red lipstick. Wearing a perpetual smile, with one hand strategically placed on his hip, he saunters across the set like game show hostesses from time immemorial. Later, with backpack, jeans and thermal vest, Olson is all boy as Tom Jr., earnestly talking about the disintegration of his family, pleading for affirmation and understanding from his oddly familiar therapist.

Bassham is charged with carrying the bulk of Reckless on her slender shoulders, but gamely hoists the responsibility as resolutely as Santa Claus would his sack of toys. In every scene, she opens the sack and pulls out another gift for the appreciative audience. Her reactions include wide-eyed wonder, angry disbelief, confused trepidation, unconcealed joy and peaceful acceptance, but that barely begins to describe the range of emotions Bassham shows while clad in Rachel's skin and festive flannel nightgown. She shares great chemistry with the entire cast and is rarely offstage throughout the play, staged here sans intermission.

Larry Coen is head elf to Bassham's Santa, giving a strong performance as Lloyd, Rachel's rescuer and one of her role models. He gradually reveals the layers of his initially gruff character, softening like butter left out of the fridge, showing both the inner strength and shame of this troubled man. Coen captures the tenderness with which Lloyd treats others, as well as the painful, unforgiving judgment he heaps upon himself, and convincingly plays Lloyd's responses to the bizarre and dire circumstances that occur. Kerry Dowling brings a charming joie de vivre to the wheelchair-bound Pooty, and then morphs from the warmth of that characterization into a maniacal, vengeful author discussing her self-help book on a talk show. Sandra Heffley does nice work as Rachel's inscrutable co-worker Trish, as well as an expletive-spewing derelict, while Barlow Adamson manages to imbue even the murderous husband with some humanity. His final moments onstage are to die for.

Director Edmiston lets the actors strut their stuff, but maintains control over the frenzy and makes the craziness appear almost normal and not altogether unexpected. After a while, we get accustomed to Rachel's thoughts, fears and fantasies coming to fruition. If you pay attention in the early going, Lucas inserts some clever foreshadowing and it all makes sense in the end. Even the title of the play is explained by Rachel's sixth doctor, whose genuine caring and ability to walk in the slippers of her patients best illustrates the moral of the story: things happen for a reason, and love and family come in many shapes and sizes.

If you are looking for something different from the usual theatrical fare this holiday season, cast your fate with Reckless at the Boston Center for the Arts. It has many magical elements, but you haven't seen the likes of these before.

Reckless. Performances through December 12 at SpeakEasy Stage Company, Roberts Studio Theatre, Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston's South End. Box Office 617-933-8600 or

Directed by Scott Edmiston; Cristina Todesco, Scenic Design; Charles Schoonmaker, Costume Design; Karen Perlow, Lighting Design; Dewey Dellay, Original Music & Sound Design; Dawn Schall, Production Stage Manager

Marianna Bassham: Rachel
Barlow Adamson: Tom/Ensemble
Larry Coen: Lloyd
Kerry A. Dowling: Pooty/Ensemble
Will McGarrahan: Roy/Tim Timko/Ensemble
Sandra Heffley: Trish/Derelict/Ensemble
Paula Plum: Doctors
Karl Baker Olson: Student/Ensemble

Photo: Mark L. Saperstein

- Nancy Grossman

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