Kat Murrell

Youngblood Theatre’s Red Light Winter

By - Jan 22nd, 2010 03:39 pm
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The words most associated with Red Light Winter are “sexually charged” (and that is certainly true) and attention-getting, but it’s the subtleties of personality that sustain this charge — fueled by friendship, love, envy and despair.

Red Light Winter, written by Adam Rapp, was a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Due to nudity and sexually explicit situations, it is intended for mature audiences only. Performed by Youngblood Theatre (now in their second season) and directed by Benjamin James Wilson, this production has intensity and clarity. The setting of the Alchemist Theatre is an ideal spot for this play; the space is small and intimate, and the occasional traffic sounds from Kinnickinnic Avenue only add to the created world of the stage.

From the Youngblood Theatre website.

Youngblood Theatre’s Red Light Winter runs through Feb. 6. Image from website.

We begin in a seedy Amsterdam hotel; the dingy plaster and red glow through the bleak window give a sense of transitory space. It’s a place to stay for a moment, and it forms the backdrop for a single night that reverberates through the lives of the three characters: Matt, the scrawny, awkward, and pained writer; Davis, the frat boy intellectual; and the shadowy, multi-layered Christina.

This play is not out to win any feel-good awards, and it gains poignancy as a game of emotional chess. The interplay of personalities is like psychological quicksilver; the dynamics palpably change as characters enter and leave. The first act is especially lively with the verbal sparring between Matt (David Rothrock) and Davis (Andrew Edwin Voss), punctuated by the watchful, mysterious Christina (Tess Cinpinski). One of the surprising things about this production is the number of laughs the actors were able to bring out. It’s a crummy hotel, and emotions run high, but in the midst of this there are many moments of brash and vulgar hilarity.

The energy of possibility fuels the first act, while the second takes on the aftermath. The trio’s entanglements develop into something of an amorous food chain — one is loved by another, who is in love with someone else, who in turn couldn’t give a damn. Underlying questions are not neatly wrapped up and resolved: why is Matt so tormented? What cements his friendship with his opposite — the rakish Davis? They antagonize and annoy each other, but there is a deep-seated bond between them. Rothrock consistently brings out the despair and charming wit of Matt, while Voss adroitly reflects the changeability of Davis — one moment he’s an arguing intellectual, the next moment, a chauvinist louse.  Cinpinski, as the enigmatic Christina, unpeels her character like an onion, holding back with slight intimations, and then revealing secrets with quiet explosions. She works between these two like a magnifying lens, while her exterior independence is modulated by a growing inward vulnerability.

The story’s narrative is straightforward, but the psychological underpinnings are complex. The motivations, weaknesses and desires of each person create fantasies of what someone else could be to them. They may have known each other for hours or years, but how well do they really know each other at all?

Following Red Light Winter, Youngblood Theatre’s next productionwill be Monster & Mantagora Island in March.

Update (Jan. 25): The remainder of Red Light Winter’s run at the Alchemist Theatre has been canceled. Red Light Winter performer and Youngblood co-founder Andrew Edwin Voss is in critical condition following a violent incident over the weekend. For more, see this separate article on TCD.

Categories: Arts & Culture

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