Craig Lucas' “Reckless” offers an odd odyssey in the latest FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training production. In the tradition of “Candide,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “After Hours,” the play’s innocent hero falls out of her comfy daily life and plunges headfirst into a surreal journey of self-discovery.
The hero’s name is Rachel (Amber McNew). Her plunge begins on a magical Christmas Eve in 1983. She sits up in bed, visions of sugarplums dancing in her head. Her husband, Tom (Creg Sclavi), lies beside her, troubled and silent. But Rachel’s a manic chatterbox. She’s a daydream believer, and itemizes her dreams to Tom. (Santa Claus, Alaska, elves, reindeer, champagne.) Oh what a perfect day! What could possibly go wrong? Well, for starters, Tom might’ve hired a hitman to shut his wife up. Permanently.
Tom informs Rachel that is indeed the case — and the killer’s crashing into the house right now. If she wants to live, she needs to run. Seeing the logic of this argument, Rachel flees out the bedroom window, and her mad odyssey begins. In a nightgown and slippers on a snowy night.
Rachel survives, thanks to the kindness of stranger named Lloyd (Brian Ritchie). She finds this stranger/savior at a nearby Arco gas station. Lloyd is mumbling, good-natured and dressed like Father Christmas. After hearing Rachel’s sad tale, Lloyd takes her into his home. Pooty (Carla Corvo), Lloyd’s deaf, paraplegic wife, seems equally welcoming. (Although she’s not what she seems.) Rachel goes into hiding, changes her name and gets mindless office work at Hands Across the Sea, a nonprofit employing Lloyd as a physical therapist. By next Christmas, things are looking up for Rachel and friends. Then Tom tracks his wife down and an unsigned present turns deadly. Rachel hits the road again, accompanied by a suicidal Lloyd, on a twisted path through a series of towns named Springfield across the U.S.A.
At the start of her mad journey, Rachel’s favorite catchphrase was “Everything happens for a reason.” By journey’s end, she changes her tune. Life wipes the smile off Rachel’s face and shuts her up. She even loses the power of speech for years. But Rachel doesn’t lose the possibility of redemption. There’s still one surprising hope …
It’s a short, sharp, shock of a play. Brendan Ragan is the ideal director for it. He thrives in the fast lanes — and puts the pedal to the metal on the twists and turns of Lucas’ wild ride.
McNew is loveable as her loveable character. But she also shows why Rachel drove her husband mad. Her Rachel is a wide-eyed naïf, like the heroine of Fellini’s “Nights of Cabiria.” McNew's witty, bubbly, effervescent, comic characterization has a satiric bite. But she never sneers at Rachel’s innocence. In a deft display of versatility, Ritchie’s Lloyd descends the rungs from kooky comic relief to alcoholic self-destruction. Corvo is a comic gem as Pooty, Lloyd’s impish and mostly silent wife. (She’s clearly the smart one in the family.) Jillian Cicalese is mordantly hilarious as Rachel’s unsympathetic office dictator; Jonathan Grunert dials it up to 11 as Tim Timko, a crass, classless, coke-snorting game show host. Michael Judah is equally hilarious (though not so loud) as a series of Rachel’s clueless psychiatrists, who range from New Age kooks, to Primal Scream aficionados, to bored and barely listening incompetents.
Jeffrey Weber’s set design evokes an “Our Town” of the damned. Windows, doors, furniture, Christmas trees — everything’s divorced from context, either hanging from wires or positioned in drifts of fake snow. (Kudos for the existential nothingness of Weber’s garish game show set.) Sofia Gonzales’ costumes have a slightly unrealistic dress-up feel, like the characters of a forgotten sitcom who never change clothes. Chris McVicker’s lighting creates the perfect fever-dream intensity. He punctuates Lucas’ clipped scenes with blackouts. Rachel’s lost her grip on reality. His dance of light and darkness pulls you inside her mad dream.
What does the playwright’s dream mean?
Philosophy aside, it’s just plain hilarious. “Reckless” is a very funny play, despite its litany of horrors.
Through all the black comedy, Lucas makes you feel for Rachel’s suffering. She’s not a cartoon character. And this is not a wacky cartoon universe where anything can happen. It’s a twisted reflection of the insane real universe where anything can happen. To anybody.
The playwright clearly walks in Ionesco’s absurdist footsteps. His satiric jabs at middle class complacency cut deep. But Lucas’ caricature has a quality of mercy. He makes you care for his goofy, giddy protagonist. Rachel suffers. But her suffering isn’t the point.
Rachel’s done nothing to deserve it. And the playwright’s not trying to punish her.
Good things happen to bad people.
Everything doesn’t happen for a reason.
But a few good people somehow get through it.