Raw, real, smart and dark

Emily Bobrow | March/April 2012

Adam Rapp is unnervingly prolific. Having written some 30 plays (many of them acclaimed, some dormant in a drawer), several novels, a handful of screenplays and other odds and ends, Rapp seems less like a 43-year-old American author and more like an agitated geyser, spewing work that feels raw and real, smart and dark. “When I start something I don’t stop until I am finished,” he has explained. “But I don’t start until it’s grabbing me by the throat.” This throat-grabbing urgency is evident in his best work, such as the mesmerising, Pulitzer-nominated “Red Light Winter”, which has its British premiere in Bath this March.

The story of a love triangle of sorts between two friends and a prostitute in Amsterdam, “Red Light Winter” crackles with electric dialogue and a grim momentum; like nearly all of Rapp’s characters, these three are doomed. But Rapp’s gift is for balancing heavy themes (loneliness, unrequited love, manipulative friendship) with a well-observed compassion. He loves his creations, and lets them say things that are funny and clever as well as conversational (“You were like kind. And it helped me…in ways that I’d need like the 12,000 semitones of dolphin language to articulate”), so their misery feels more profound. At a performance of the play in New York in 2006, I remember feeling an odd rupture when the actors exited and the lights went up. Six years on, the play was delicious to re-read, its vitality palpable even on the page. Lucky Bath. ~ Emily Bobrow

Red Light Winter at Ustinov Studio, Theatre Royal Bath, March 1st to 31st

Theatre at a Glance

All New People (Duke of York's, London, February 22nd to April 28th).

Zach Braff- J.D. in "Scrubs", as well as the writer of the endearing indie film "Garden State"- leads his own comedy of thirtysomething existential angst, well-recieved when it played off-Broadway last summer. Expect a little plot, a lot of snappy dialogue, and a warm, witty performance from Braff's Welsh co-star, Eve Myles.

Farewell to the Theatre (Hampstead, London, March 1st to April 7th).

A new play by Richard Nelson considers the mid-life crisis, both artistic and emotional, of the great Edwardian impresario Harley Granville-Barker. Roger Mitchell directs Tara Fitzgerald and Ben Chaplin, two performers with cheekbones as sharp as their talents.

The Duchess of Malfi (Old Vic, London, March 17th to June 9th).

Eve Best brings her earthy, sure-footed brand of realism to this sexually histrionic Jacobean tragedy- so it's probably safe to hope for less sliding-down-the-wall acting than is often the case with the poor, tortured duchess.

One Man, Two Guvnors (Music Box, New York, from April 6th)

James Corden and much of the original London cast transfer their brainstorming, sandwich-stealing take on Goldoni's farce- minus all the cricket jokes- to Broadway. But will a New York audience get that this is essentially a panto for grown-ups? Or will they find the (apparent) lack of onstage discipline...disrespectful?

Miss Julie (Royal Exchange, Manchester, April 11th to May 12th).

And for her next trick...the working-class Lancashire lass Maxine Peake, who rarely seems to accept a part unless its 180° different from anything she has done before, takes on Strindberg's nervy, imperious aristocrat-on-the-ropes. ~ EB

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