Monday, October 2, 2017

Lost Lake: Hello, Stranger

Quentin Maré and Lynnette R. Freeman in Lost Lake, by Berkshire Theatre Group. (Photo: Emma K. Rothenberg-Ware)

In David Auburn’s Lost Lake, Veronica, a New York City nurse, forms an odd, thorny relationship, difficult to categorize, with Hogan, the man who rents her a cabin on a lake for a week in August so she can give her children (and her daughter’s best friend) a vacation. He seems a little slippery and doesn’t follow through on the promises he made to ready the place for her. Moreover, he’s fighting personal demons that he keeps hinting around about – fractured relationships with the local renters’ association, which is suing him; with his teenage daughter, who lives with her mother in Manhattan and won’t give him her e-mail; and with his brother and sister-in-law, whom he lived with for a time and who claim he’s stolen from them. (He also lets it slip, to Veronica’s consternation, that he’s living in his truck on the property he’s renting to her.) But though he presents as a loser and she comes across as confident and tough, it turns out that her life, too, is far from settled: she’s raising two little kids alone because her husband was killed in a hit-and-run two years earlier, and she’s just lost her job. The play, a two-hander that unfolds in a speedy ninety minutes, plays variations on the old dramatic set-up about strangers who meet in unlikely circumstances and are able to reach out to one another. But it never develops as you expect (for one thing, they don’t become lovers), and its unpredictability is part of its charm.

Manhattan Theatre Club mounted Lost Lake in 2014 with John Hawkes and Tracie Thoms, in a lovely production by Daniel Sullivan, and this late-season version by Berkshire Theatre Group, directed by Daisy Walker, is also a success. It’s lighter and funnier than it was in New York, and that distinction has an upside and a downside: it’s very enjoyable, but the darker moments (particularly in the final scene) feel like a stretch. Quentin Maré, who plays Hogan, brings a delightful wayward-misfit quality to the role, but whenever he has to play a scene that Auburn hasn’t leavened with humor, he hits it square in the nose, and the tonal shift is puzzling rather than just surprising. Hawkes wasn’t as much fun to watch as Maré, but he had a shambling poetic melancholy that gave the Manhattan Theatre Club production real depth. What makes the whole show work at the Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge is the chemistry between Maré and Lynnette R. Freeman, who has the requisite combination of bemusement, incredulousness and heart for Veronica.

Given its size and structure – one set, two actors, no intermission – Auburn’s play is fated for a long life, but unlike most new plays that meet the demands of regional theatres it deserves that life. It’s not perfect, but the characters are sharply drawn and unorthodox, and the more they tell you about themselves, the more intriguing the play becomes. The isolated rural setting, tenderly evoked by the scenic designer Randall Parsons and the lighting designer Patricia M. Nichols, enables the sort-of friendship that grows up between the two characters. Lost Lake is a sweet conclusion to BTG’s summer season.

– Steve Vineberg is Distinguished Professor of the Arts and Humanities at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he teaches theatre and film. He also writes for The Threepenny Review and is the author of three books: Method Actors: Three Generations of an American Acting StyleNo Surprises, Please: Movies in the Reagan Decade; and High Comedy in American Movies.

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