Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

Red Light Winter
Theatre Exile

Charlotte Ford, Ian Merrill Peakes and Matt Pfeiffer
Adam Rapp's Red Light Winter is a powerful and disturbing piece of theater, and Theatre Exile accentuates the danger in their spare and riveting production. Despite a script with more than its share of flaws and improbable coincidences, Red Light Winter is still a deeply moving meditation on loss and sexual obsession, and the top-notch cast makes the most of the play's strengths.

Red Light Winter tells the story of two former college buddies, now in their thirties on a trip to Amsterdam - Matt, a suicidal loner who struggles to make a living as a playwright, and Davis, an overgrown frat boy who brings the party with him wherever he goes. Davis is determined to cheer up his old friend, and for that reason he secures the services of Christina, an alluring prostitute he found in the red light district. (Davis picks Christina because, apparently, she had the most interesting backstory of all the hookers in town.) Instead of curing him of his depression, however, the encounter sends Matt spiraling further down - and when Christina meets up with him a year later at his grungy New York apartment, she learns just how much more the night meant to him than to her. And it turns out Christina has her own fixation on that night in Amsterdam, and more than a few secrets.

Each of the three cast members is magnetic and completely convincing. Matt Pfeiffer is mesmerizing as Matt, who careens from one crisis to the next, constantly conflicted and burdened by the obsessions in his life - of whom Christina is merely the latest. When he finally relieves himself of his burdens and tells her how their night together affected him, he makes the moment incredibly gripping. Charlotte Ford is thoroughly believable as Christina, who captivates the men but needs a lot of prodding from Matt to let her guard down. Also excellent is Ian Merrill Peakes as a guy with a lot of superficial charm, and a nasty side that's always just bubbling under the surface.

Director Joe Canuso's production is moody, sexy and exotic. It's so enticing, in fact, that it almost makes it possible to overlook the flaws in Rapp's play ... but not quite. The show runs nearly two and a half hours (including an intermission), and half an hour of it could be trimmed easily. Rapp is great at constructing witty, conversational dialogue, but having the two men debate whether Henry Miller is a better writer than Raymond Carver just isn't very interesting. Some of the rough language (not to mention the somewhat graphic sex) seems more designed to shock than to illuminate. And making his central character a playwright - one who reveals in act two that he's writing a play about the events of act one - makes Rapp seem too self-indulgent and unimaginative.

Then there are the plot holes. At times Matt and Davis don't seem to be friends as much as carefully calculated opposing types. Why Matt would want to spend so much time with the guy who stole his girlfriend is a puzzle that the script doesn't delve into deeply. What's more, having not one but two characters fail to recognize people they had sex with twelve months earlier just seems too convenient and contrived. And having Davis turn from a carefree party boy into an animal in the second act doesn't quite fit either. Finally, there's an ambivalent ending that leaves Matt no better off than when he started, and in no rush to make any changes.

Still, getting there is a great ride. If you're willing to overlook the playwright's indulgences and just let three great actors take you on a provocative journey, you'll enjoy this production of Red Light Winter.

Red Light Winter runs through November 12, 2006 and is presented by Theatre Exile at Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 North American Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are $15-$25 and are available by calling 215-922-4462 or online at

Red Light Winter
By Adam Rapp
Directed by Joe Canuso
Assistant Director... Carol Laratonda
Stage Manager... Desiree Salera
Set Designer... Bradley R. Helm
Lighting Designer... Joshua L. Schulman
Sound Designer... Mike Kiley
Costume Designer... Millie Hiibel

Matt... Matt Pfeiffer
Davis... Ian Merrill Peakes
Christina... Charlotte Ford

Photo: Robert Hakalski

-- Tim Dunleavy

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