The Yuletide season was not designed to bruise and batter the human spirit, but sometimes it has that effect. Just look at Rachel, the chirpy wife and mom who flees her home in terror on Christmas Eve in Craig Lucas’s black comedy “Reckless.”
As portrayed by Mundy Spears in Spooky Action Theater‘s lively but somewhat under-polished version of the play, Rachel is a funny but touching spectacle. Chattering away as she sits in a stranger’s car, dressed in a red bathrobe and slippers, her blond bob shimmering in the light, she seems to vacillate among grief, bravery and hysteria. She launches into a rendition of “O Christmas Tree,” but her voice wavers, and she has to stop: Her crumpled smile suggests that she’s about to cry.
Spooky Action’s “Reckless,” directed by Richard Henrich, doesn’t always live up to this nicely modulated moment. A hint of awkwardness clings to some of the acting turns, and at the reviewed performance, the frequent scene changes were excruciatingly cumbersome and loud. Still, Spears’s portrayal of Rachel is engagingly spirited, if rather broad. And overall the production conveys the essence of the play’s dark, kooky universe — a place where people are fundamentally unknowable and the coziest scene may be pregnant with menace.
After her Christmas Eve getaway, Rachel falls in with various eccentric characters, including Lloyd (Jim Zidar) and Pooty (Tiffany Garfinkle), spouses who are not all they initially appear to be. After the three make an appearance on the TV game show “Your Mother or Your Wife?” Rachel’s quest to survive — and to keep her sanity — becomes ever more dicey. Increasingly, the strange events that surround her confirm Lloyd’s dictum that “the past is . . . the nightmare you wake up to every day.”
The burly Zidar, frequently sporting a creased-eye frown, brings gravitas to the role of Lloyd, although his portrayal starts to feel a little sluggish toward the end of the play. Garfinkle comes across as overly studied during a passage that should relay revelatory information about Pooty. Doug Krehbel, who seems stiff when he’s depicting Rachel’s cranky boss, Roy, is relatively entertaining as the smarmy game show host Tim Timko, who asks such questions as, “Is Lloyd more like a ping-pong ball or a paper clip?”
Actress Hilary Kacser plunges with relish into a series of roles as six contrasting doctors who espouse six approaches to treating what they think are Rachel’s psychological problems. The actress is particularly amusing as the fourth doctor, who slinks around barefoot in a long peasant skirt, working herself up into a frenzy of excitement while describing the importance of the primal scream.
Designer Lynly A. Saunders’s simple but distinctive costume touches — a beret here, a Southern-belle hat there — facilitate Kacser’s role transitions. (Saunders slyly works Christmas-appropriate reds and greens into many of the outfits that characters wear.)
Sound designer David Crandall supplies some aptly ominous and zany-sounding incidental music here and there. More noticeable, unfortunately, are the creaking, grating, puttering noises that break out whenever designer JD Madsen’s simple set items — a motel bed and motel sign, a game-show stage, a couch and Christmas tree positioned in front of a bright yellow wall — slide on and off the stage. Where is a little spooky action when you need it?
Wren is a freelance writer.
By Craig Lucas. Directed by Richard Henrich; lighting, Zachary A. Dalton. With Cameron Robertson and Gale Nemec. About two hours. Through Oct. 28 at Spooky Action Theater at the Universalist National Memorial Church, 1810 16th St. NW. Call 202-248-0301 or visit www.spookyaction.org.