Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Red Light Winter
HotCity Theatre

Also see Richard's reviews of Soups, Stews and Casseroles: 1976 and Rent

Maggie Conroy
All my critic friends keep saying this play is definitely not for children.

But the psychological nakedness, and the emotional brutishness that pounds away before and after, seem a lot more cringe-worthy than the sex in act one.

In fact, the mood created by director Eric Little, for that first sex scene, is beautiful and wistful and sad and kind. It's just that much of the action and dialog surrounding it can be so very harsh indeed. Then again, if you take out "just" the sexy parts, or excise "just" the horrific ones, you're not left with much of a story, are you?

You could even say that Adam Rapp's play (a 2006 Pulitzer Prize finalist) succeeds so well because it utterly polarizes the worst things about the world "outside of bed," and the absolute best things about the world "in bed." And structurally, all the action seems to push his three characters to one extreme or the other. Anything else becomes unbearable.

There's also some sex in act two (and brief nudity in act one), but a whole lot of character development goes in first, leading up to the second "climactic" event. Parenthetically, in my day, we just called it all "sexual politics": doing what you had to do to get what you really wanted. And here, the sex is only as dirty as the "politicians" involved. The quality of the act varies a lot, depending on the participants.

Story-wise, much of what happens could be read as a cruel frat house hazing—or a nightmarish "walk of shame," prompting the need for some kind of succor. Reginald Pierre is great as the more gregarious of two Americans in Amsterdam, a suave, impudent sex god in jeans and a pea coat. And Maggie Conroy is cleverly, emotionally elusive—for most of the evening—as the prostitute.

That leaves the central character, Matt, played with tremendous vulnerability by Austin Pierce, as the much more callow America. He's a bundle of nerves and anxieties in a city—Amsterdam—that's purely devoted to pleasure.

With its reliance on shame and desire, Red Light Winter could serve as a good companion piece to Venus in Fur, if anyone could stand the strain of the two high-tension, highly sexualized plays back to back. Both are terrific, though a double bill would certainly be intolerable.

But where David Ives' Venus in Fur is a dizzying oscillation between passionate frustration and deepest shame, Mr. Rapp's script is a breathtaking contrast between heartbreaking loneliness and, well, deepest shame ... along with a clever series of false-fronts (which parallel the fluctuating identities in Venus), and the damage those false fronts somehow fail to conceal.

However, where Mr. Ives' work is a brilliant "fan-dance," leading up to a single act; Mr. Rapp's script plays out more like an "angry young man (or woman)" story, by Osborn or Pinter—which may actually give it a leg up, in the annals of theater.

In any case, director Little and his powerful cast manage to create a ringing clash between the deeply personal and the strangely inaccessible.

Through March 29, 2014, at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 South Grand (a block south of the Fox). For more information visit www.hotcitytheatre.org.

Matt: Austin Pierce
Davis: Reginald Pierre
Christina: Maggie Conroy

Production Staff:
Director: Eric Little
Stage Manager: Aaron Orion Baker*
Scenic Lighting Designer: Alan Chlebowski
Costume Designer: Emily Montgomery
Properties Master: Meg Brinkley
Assistant Properties Master: Tanya Tweedy
Sound Designer: Patrick Burks
Assistant Stage Manager: Kristin Cirone
Master Carpenter: Tom Stevenson
Master Electrician: Josie Zeugin
Scenic Painter: Anna Grimm

* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association

Photo: Michael B. Perkins

-- Richard T. Green

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