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‘Reckless,’ A New Play by Craig Lucas, Opens Off-Broadway

September 25, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ It’s Christmas Eve. The snow is falling. Bing Crosby is crooning ″I’ll Be Home for Christmas.″ The kids are tucked snugly into bed. There’s talk of Santa Claus and Christmas presents.

Then the young husband confesses that he has taken a contract out on his wife, and the hired killer will be arriving any minute.

″Holidays can be tough sometimes,″ sympathizes a character in ″Reckless,″ a dark, dizzy and often dangerous black comedy by Craig Lucas that opened Sunday, courtesy of off-Broadway’s Circle Repertory Company.

Its heroine, Rachel, doesn’t wait for explanations from her repentant hubby. Dressed in a bathrobe and slippers, she flees out the bedroom window and into the snowy night. Her escape and subsequent education about life are the nightmarish stories of ″Reckless,″ a quirky, often funny fantasy that grows grimmer as it becomes more absurd.

During her journey, Rachel turns into a female Candide transported through a dream-like, cloud-filled setting designed by Loy Arcenas. This suburban housewife is an eternal optimist, no matter how badly she is battered by people and events during her convoluted travels.

At the beginning of her bizarre adventure, this orphan of the storm gets picked up at a local gas station by Lloyd, who brings her home to his wife, Pooty, a quadriplegic and deaf mute.

The trio ends up on a TV game show called ″Your Mother or Your Wife?″ where Lloyd wants to win money so he can pay child support to a long-forgotten first wife.

Rachel gets a job working as a clerk for Hands Across the Sea, a vaguely humanitarian organization, and incurs the jealousy of her neurotic supervisor. Before she finally reaches the end of her travels, Rachel witnesses several murders and has visited various psychiatrists, including one who practices primal scream therapy. By the final scene, she becomes a psychiatrist herself, and ends up counseling her own son.

In terms of plot, it makes for a breathless evening, one that is astonishing in its inventiveness in bringing long-lost characters back together after extended absences.

The comedy threatens to run out of steam several times during the play. The game show spoof is not as ferocious or as funny as it could be, but then it would be hard to top some of the real-life examples already on television.

In Act 2, the laughs eventually give way to a unsettling black humor as Rachel becomes more aware of the crazy situation she has gotten herself into. The character and the play become more somber as they attempt to define what Rachel has done with her life since leaving her husband.

Rachel personifies a kind of goofy sweetness, a quality further enhanced by Robin Bartlett’s exemplary performance. Miss Bartlett is one of those radiant actresses who brings an intelligence and intensity to every role they play. She did it two seasons ago with her performance of an acerbic hooker in ″The Early Girl,″ also presented by Circle Rep.

The actress gets some strong support from John Dossett, as the good-natured but strange Lloyd, Welker White as the silent quadriplegic, Susan Blommaert as the jealous co-worker and particularly Joyce Reehling as a succession of increasingly weird shrinks.

Director Norman Rene gives ″Reckless″ a thoughtful, fluid production, that makes Rachel’s journey move quickly.

The title of the play pretty much suggests what the playwright is doing. He doesn’t play safe with either his characters or plot. Lucas keeps everything off balance. It may make for some awkward moments but the end result is an intriguing tilt, a play that fascinates particularly because you can’t second- guess where it is going.

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