Dodging death

Reckless, The Salt Girl, and The Overwhelming
By CAROLYN CLAY  |  November 18, 2009

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RECKLESS Marianna Bassham treks through a perpetual Yule that flings her from saccharine snugness to the edge of redemption.

Even the sweetest life can shatter in an instant, sending you through the looking glass like Alice. For the euphoric heroine of Craig Lucas's 1988 fable of holiday festivity and arbitrary mayhem, Reckless (being revived by SpeakEasy Stage Company at the Calderwood Pavilion through December 12), the moment of reckoning comes when her husband tearfully confesses, on Christmas Eve, that he has taken out a contract on her life. "Although I love you, you will have to leap;/Our dream of safety has to disappear," reads the quote from Auden on the frontispiece of the printed play. And leap Rachel must — in Scott Edmiston's affecting and extravagant production from gauzy-white-bedroom window into a red-and-green-trimmed, topsy-turvy Oz defined by upside-down Christmas trees, a twinkling galaxy of ornaments, and a soundtrack that includes "Mambo Santa Mambo" and "White Christmas" twanged on banjo.

Like fellow fairy tale Prelude to a Kiss, Reckless lacks the bitterness of some later Lucas works, substituting an ebullient innocence that must nonetheless come to grips with the fact that death and heartbreak intervene on the way to wholeness and that the hand of God may be motored by no more than slap-happy coincidence. Not that the cruel world Lucas presents is without its kindnesses. These are supplied in the main by the odd couple who take the fleeing Rachel in: an empathetic physical therapist with the spurious moniker of Lloyd Bophetelophti and his paraplegic, ostensibly deaf-mute wife, Pooty. Between them they demonstrate that even a life of lies can be lived with compassion.

In its hyperbolic parody of bygone, tamer game and talk shows, Reckless (which was revived on Broadway in 2004) is a bit dated. But Edmiston, a master at conjuring flow, connects its surreal, unlikely stream of events through a recurring pageant in which the characters lurk and twirl to a sound suite by Dewey Dellay that runs the gamut from mournful and otherworldly to Macy's-elevator-worthy. And Marianna Bassham mixes a profound sadness into her burbling, agitated Rachel, trekking in nightgown and candy-cane socks through a perpetual Yule that flings her from saccharine snugness through terror and tragedy (not to mention the Christopher Durangian crucible of modern psychiatry) to the edge of redemption. The play may be Reckless, but the well-acted production — something of a thespian treat featuring, in addition to Bassham, fellow Elliot Norton Award winners Larry Coen and Paula Plum — is carefully calibrated, its cartoon whimsy balanced by the AIDS-age suffering from which it sprang.

The Salt Girl is not a low-sodium show — the Morton's flows like sand through an hourglass from its familiar curved container festooned with the title character. Neither does this new one-man play written and performed by John Kuntz lack pathos, quirky humor, or a compelling story. And in David R. Gammons's world-premiere production at Boston Playwrights' Theatre (through November 22) — which is backed by a looming tic-tac-toe grid lit up with some two dozen working televisions tuned to the channels of Kuntz's character's mind — the piece makes Spalding Gray, with his spare table and glass of water, look like a Shaker. If it has a fault, it's that there's too much of it, the stream of subjective images and arias of pop-cultural reference sometimes clouding and even cheapening the raw, piquant gist the way too much salt gets in the way of your popcorn or rains into your margarita.

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