by John Stoltenberg
I just discovered a theater company I had not heard of—Spooky Action Theater—and what a delightful surprise. Well, actually, I recall seeing the name Spooky Action, but it didn’t suggest smart, adventurous, high-quality theatrical production: I thought it was an amateur Halloween stunt. Though I try to scope out DC’s robust theater scene, this remarkable blip wasn’t on my radar. Now, having thoroughly enjoyed a preview of SAT’s Reckless—and having learned what the weird name Spooky Action means (it’s a highbrow reference to Einsteinian physics)—I expect I’ll be back for more.
I had also never heard of Reckless, a surreal comedy written in the 90s by Craig Lucas (whom I had heard of; his film Longtime Companion is one I treasure). What sets the screwball story of Reckless in motion is a young man’s confession to his wife, Rachel, on Christmas Eve, that he has taken out a contract on her life, which he now regrets but cannot stop, so she must flee—which plucky Rachel does, leaving him and their two boys behind and precipitating a loopy picaresque full of colorful characters and wacky plot twists.
In the hands of less talented actors, this script could collapse like a souffle fail. But this game cast plays the oddball and outlandish just right: as if it’s perfectly logical and reasonable. Rachel is our Alice-like heroine in this surreal Wonderland, and Mundy Spears plays her to a mad T party. Her guilelessness is beguiling; her astonishment, endlessly astonishing. Except for brief costume changes, Spears is almost never off stage, and her spunky optimism keeps the delectable dessert on air.
Two male supporting actors were especially good: Jim Zidar as Lloyd, the gruff and burly long-distance trucker who picks up Rachel and tenderly takes her in, and Camron Robertson as Tom, the conflicted husband who boots her out. Robertson gives a sensitive performance throughout, but when he returns at the end of the play as Tom Jr., one of Rachel’s sons, now grown, he offers up a wellspring of emotion that’s among this production’s richest rewards.
Richard Henrich’s direction is taut; the set and lighting are ingenious; the sound design is charming. Still, I found the play’s storytelling a bit forced. There were about twenty minutes in the second act when the pileup of chance events began to feel so random that the emotional narrative was never going to land on its feet. But amazingly it did, solidly, in that last stunning scene with Tom Jr.