The Denver Center Theatre Company kicks off the holiday season with a subversive bit of Christmastime counter-programming. Reckless, by Craig Lucas, is a snow-covered fever dream full of manic energy that stubbornly refuses to adhere to classical theatrical or yuletide conventions. A prototypical sad clown play, Reckless hides a heavy yet hopeful heart beneath a veneer of twinkling lights and bright red bows.
Propelled by an early, out-of-right-field plot development too tasty to spoil here, thoroughly domestic and utterly middle-American house frau Rachel ( Julia Motyka) finds herself on the run on Christmas Eve. Clad only in slippers and a dressing gown as she plunges into the snowy night, pathologically perky Rachel doesn’t so much struggle with the sudden, bizarre turn her life has taken as amiably accept it. Is she just in shock, or is the playwright already laying the groundwork for some serious psychological observations?
The answer, it turns out, is both. Soon after her unplanned exodus, Rachel meets Lloyd ( Jeffrey M. Bender), a goofy Good Samaritan who, like most every other character in Reckless, hides a comically tragic past. Lloyd offers Rachel a place to sleep for the night, and faster than you can say “Ho, ho, ho!” Rachel is ensconced in Lloyd’s house with Lloyd and his deaf, paraplegic wife, Pooty (Leslie O’Carroll).
In the blink of an eye — or scene change — Christmas Eve turns to New Year’s Eve, and Rachel has taken up semi-permanent residence with Lloyd and Pooty. A heartbeat or two later, a year has passed, and Rachel has a job (her first job ever, no less) at a children’s charity. Her supervisor, Trish (Kathleen M. Brady), is a brusque office martinet whose first concern seems to be keeping Rachel away from the only computer in the place. Might that not turn out to be more relevant than it at first appears?
As Reckless careens onward with nary a lull, it finds time for a cheesy, cheeky game show interlude featuring Tyrone Mitchell Henderson as the exasperated host, an appearance for Rachel on a daytime talk show and her multiple visits to various and sundry psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists (all played by Gabra Zackman). Rachel’s husband, Tom (Drew Cortese), reappears at one point. Later, murder most foul — and most sparkling — rears its head. Regardless of the year, all the action takes place on or around Christmas. Ask not for whom the silver bells toll.
Reckless plays in the Denver Center’s Space Theatre, the largest yet most intimate theatre-in-the-round-style venue in the area. With the audience peering in from all sides and no walls behind which the actors can find even a moment’s refuge, the Space is the perfect, er, space for Rachel’s frenetic pinballing. The scenic design by Kevin Rigdon, which has furniture, a phone booth and even a Volkswagen Beetle rising from and descending to the realm beneath the stage, helps the play maintain its breakneck pace and is a wonder to behold.
Fittingly, given its stealthy, psychological exploration of the themes of loss, hope and the search for self, Reckless is a theatrical Rorschach test. Some will stay on its surface and see it as merely a humorous holiday bauble, albeit one with some oddly sharp corners. Others may be maddened by the extent of its unconventionality. Still others will come away from it with brains clicking and whirring as they ponder the nature of happiness in the sociological and highly personal senses. Boredom is probably the only response to this play that I cannot imagine anyone having.
If you’re looking for mainstream Noel fare, take in a showing of A Christmas Carol. Both the Denver Center Theatre Company and the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in Boulder are offering excellent adaptations of Dickens’ heartwarming tale of 11thhour redemption. Feeling more sour than sweet on ol’ Saint Nick? For you there’s The SantaLand Diaries, presented by the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company at the Dairy Center. And if you feel like some Christmas theatre that will entertain and challenge you in equal measure, then strap yourself in for a performance of Reckless.
On the Bill
Reckless plays at the Space Theatre through Dec. 18. Tickets start at $18. For tickets and more information, visit www.denvercenter.org, or call 303-893-4100.