Review: Red Light Winter is not for the faint of heart 

X-Rated

If you go to see the Footlight Players' Red Light Winter, written by Adam Rapp and directed by JC Conway, be prepared: The play contains nudity, sexually explicit scenes, offensive language, and lots of smoking. The subject matter is heavy: drug addiction, sex, prostitution, AIDS, and suicide. There are plenty of scatological references, and the play itself objectifies women (or, more specifically, one particular woman). Also, the play, including intermission, is approximately three hours long.

If you're not ready for all of that, you may want to skip this one.

Shawn S. Stoner plays Matt, a neurotic, troubled playwright who's been "emerging" for some time. He's enamored with Henry Miller, author of the controversial, sexually explicit 1934 novel Tropic of Cancer, which Red Light Winter has been compared to. Stoner does a nice job of portraying an intensely angsty, quirky, charmingly self-conscious intellectual. Matt is a real mess, pacing the stage, clicking his pen, and falling into crying jags.

Randy Risher is Davis, an obnoxious, totally unlikable editor and manipulative jerk. It's difficult to tell if Risher overacts or if the character is just truly that bad. In any case, Davis has no redeeming qualities and is very one-dimensional.

Christina (Christina Leidel) is a prostitute the two guys meet in Amsterdam's Red Light district. Though her performance feels somewhat uneven, Leidel has a convincing French accent (the character pretends to be French and is married to a gay man). She also has a lovely singing voice; though her song about unrequited love is long, it is worth noting that Leidel herself came up with the melody. Christina falls for Davis (we're not sure why), but the strongest chemistry is between Stoner and Leidel.

Lighting and sound designers Jennifer Dickson and Kayla Stephenson created an effectively minimal set featuring a black background with red illuminated panels. The play opens with a door in the center and two beds on either side of it, which, of course, is significant. The first act is set in a hostel in Amsterdam, the second in a small apartment in New York. The set's spaced panels turn into walls with bookshelves in the second act. The lighting reflects the intensity and blurred reality in which the characters live. The spotlight highlights key moments, while dim lighting throughout most of the play complements the dark, nightmarish drama.

The costumes and hair by designer/stylist Merit Sander, are appropriately tousled and grungy, and Christina's red nightgown takes on a life of its own. Conway's choice of Lou Reed's music, "Carolina Says" and "Sad Song," feels as random and jarring as the play itself.

The play will leave you scratching your head, unsure of the point of it all. In the program, Conway writes, "It's about love," but it certainly seems a self-destructive "love." Clearly, the drama is partly about sexual identity, and the ways in which sex complicates relationships and about the inevitable heartaches life presents. However, because the play seems so intent on shock value, and since the plot is so crowded with various forms of despair, it is difficult to sympathize with the characters' plights. There are moments of humor, but as character Matt says, they're "funny ... like in a sad way."

If you see the show, you will likely leave feeling unfulfilled, bleak, and dirty.


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