Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Reckless is an Enticing Oddball of a Comedy

Also see Richard's reviews of Tartuffe, The Twelve Days of Cochinas and Ice Glen

Susi Damilano, Rod Gnapp and Cat Thompson
SF Playhouse is presenting Craig Lucas's entertaining and moving Christmas fable, Reckless, through December 30th at their new location at 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco. The wacky comedy had its premiere Off-Broadway in 1983. It was a dissident Christmas tale about the weakness of the middle class contentment in America presented during the time of the Reagan administration's refusal to acknowledge the AIDS crisis.

Reckless was successfully revived Off-Broadway in 1988 and the playwright joined the ranks of American theater's finest comic writers, alongside Christopher Durang, John Guare and Wallace Shawn. The Samuel Goldwyn Company filmed Reckless in 1995 with Mia Farrow as Rachel and Scott Glenn as Lloyd. Mary Louise Parker played Pooty. The film failed at the box office due to its bizarre storyline, even with a fine cast. The Manhattan Theatre Club presented the Broadway debut of the farce in 2004 at the newly renovated Biltmore Theatre. Mary Louise Parker took over the lead role of Rachel, and Michael O'Keefe retuned to the Broadway stage as Lloyd. Rosie Perez took over the role of Pooty. We saw the play two days after its opening and I felt the hilarious farce was lost in the large 650-seat house. Also, the two leads did not ignite the play.

Veteran director/actor Louis Parnell has used his substantial skills to make the play's surreal humor sharp and penetrating. He uses two flat television screens showing clips of Christmas movies and commercials so each scene smoothly segues into the next. This is used to great effect in the second act with its rapidly changing scenes.

Lucas's characters have a survive-against-the-odds optimism. There is a wonderful comic cheerfulness while dealing unremittingly with dark subjects such as pain, defeat, separation and the chaos that surrounds their lives.

Reckless starts out with Tom (Mark LaRiviere), husband of Rachel (Susi Damilano), sitting on the bed in their Springfield, Massachusetts home, looking very remorseful on Christmas Eve. Effervescent almost to a fault, Rachel is happy and wants to hear happy news on the television (the broadcasters always hold off happy news until Christmas Eve). Tom is repentant since he contracted a killer to bump off his wife. It is not Santa Clause moving about downstairs, and Tom tells the confused to wife to flee into the snowy winter night.

Rachel in her "nighty" wanders to a nearby gas station to telephone a friend. A stranger, Lloyd (Rod Gnapp), comes on the scene and she hitches a ride with him to his home. Lloyd is a physical therapist and he has run away from his dark past and set up house with deaf-mute Pooty (Cat Thompson), who turns out not to be deaf after all.

Many things happens to Rachel, Lloyd and Pooty, including being contestants on a wild and wacky television game show called "Your Mother or Your Wife." Things turn bad for the trio as the first act ends.

The second act opens with Rachel and Lloyd on the run from the law going to every "Springfield" in this country (don't ask why). Lloyd takes to drinking only champagne and not eating (again don't ask why) as the play becomes a surreal comedy that ends in Alaska.

With his competent hands, Louis Parnell has assembled an excellent cast of actors who give the production a buoyant spirit, despite all of the tragedy going on. Susi Damilano makes Rachel an engaging character, even with her jabbering and driving everyone crazy. It is a luminous performance.

Rod Gnapp is excellent as Lloyd. He moves from a trite cheerfulness to frustration to becoming a raving alcoholic. In the second act when Rachel dominates the scene, Rod beautifully underplays the ranting man hugging onto a bottle of the bubbly.

Cat Thompson is wonderful as Pooty, using her mischievous face while sitting still in a wheelchair. Mark LaRiviere gives a good performances as both Tom Sr. and later as Tom Jr. Steve Budd, who plays the television M.C., is properly garish in the role. Sandra Schlecter is a hoot playing six different therapists while Lorraine Olsen gives a hilarious performance as the Christmas-hating bookkeeper, Trish.

Bill English has designed a simple set for the intimate stage with wheeled-in props and a backdrop of projections plus a nice snow scene at the end of the production.

Reckless plays through December 30th at the SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter Street just off Union Square in San Francisco. For tickets, call 415-677-9596 or visit, or the TIX box office on Union Square.

Their next production will be the West Coast premiere of Deb Margolin's Three Seconds in the Key starring Amy Resnick opening on January 13th.

Photo: Zabrina Tipton

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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