By JOHN DeMERS
At first glance, Craig Lucas’s comedy-drama Reckless seems another of those quirky, modernized, very American Christmas stories. And in some ways, even beyond that first glance, it is.
Rachel, the tale’s main character, loves Christmas. Always has and always will, even if she’ll change her name and location more than once before the play is through. Indeed, it is a lovely Christmas Eve filled with soft-drifting snow when the lights go up. The two unseen children are snug in their beds. And Rachel is sharing with her husband Tom just how happy she is this particular holiday season.
That, naturally, is before Tom confesses he’s hired a hitman to break in and kill her.
In Brave Dog Players’ rendition, now on display at a brand-new space on Post Oak called Wildfish Theatre, that’s when Rachel goes out the window, accepts a ride into the icy night from a stranger (who’s already living a made-up life under a made-up name) and begins the long journey into her future by way of her past. Or just maybe, vice versa.
Brave Dog was founded earlier this year to present plays that the company’s four principals didn’t think were produced enough by Houston’s large, larger and largest theater troupes. John Cariani’s Almost, Maine was their debut production last Valentine’s – and it seemed the perfect quirky love story, complete with its own snow – to launch an alternative venture. And now Reckless is the perfect followup.
Three of the four founders are hands-on in this production. Longtime Alley favorite Philip Lehl serves as director, something he made his local debut doing with Almost, Maine. He keeps things lively throughout, finding logical and, best of all, unintrusive ways to use the small stage and minimalist set to let the story and characters stand out. Though we hope Philip never gives up acting, we think he has a promising future as a director too.
One Brave Dog founder, Georgi Silverman, is missing from the stage, having recently given birth to a third child. Her husband, Rick Silverman, is there, however, playing two of the evening’s most memorable roles: the effete and lispy director of a charitable organization and the wild, leering host of a TV game show. And that leaves the fourth founder, the director’s wife, Kim Tobin-Lehl.
We’ve seen Kim in a number of productions, and she brings all of them to bear on her Rachel. Joy, sorrow, fear, guilt, longing, all behind a mask of confusion that is the signature of modern life. Though the story of Reckless is, in general, outlandish, the character of Rachel is real, credible, just plain likable. We buy into this weird semi-Christmas odyssey because we care what happens to her.
Several players round out the Brave Dog roster for Reckless: Kregg Dailey as Lloyd, the man who gives Rachel a ride on that Christmas Eve and ends up, along the road of life, living in a Santa suit; Zach Burton as Rachel’s husband Tom and, much later, as someone else dear to her heart; and Susan Draper as the wheelchair-bound paraplegic “deaf girl” ridiculously called Pooty. Julia Traber masters the secretary-scowl as Trish, while Candice Meade changes personalities and accents before our eyes to play six different psychiatrists. We might need to see at least one after all this.
Brave Dog has gone all out on talent if not on money when it comes to production values. Kevin Holden dishes up a wonderful set, mostly a single backdrop of hanging household items that takes on colorful projections around two flat-screen TVs, while Jodi Bobrovsky keeps costumes realistic. Chip Schneider needs to be singled out for his music and sound design, not that we typically notice such things. The use of Christmas carols, in unexpected and often ironic ways, turns some of the world’s most familiar melodies into a kind of Greek chorus. TV news reports and changing radio stations really do help push the adventure along.
At Wildfish Theatre through Dec. 19. www.bravedogtheatre.com.
Photos by Gabriella Nissen: (top) Kregg Dailey and Kim Tobin-Lehl; (middle) Kim Tobin-Lehl and Julia Traber.