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‘Red Light Winter’ explores obsession

Harry Cherkinian, Contributing writer

Youngblood Theatre Company’s production of “Red Light Winter” was interrupted a year ago after Andrew Edwin Voss, one of the company’s actors and co-founders, was stabbed and critically injured. Fortunately Voss recovered, and Youngblood has remounted the production for those who missed the few original performances of this intelligent, compelling and decidedly adult work.

Playwright Adam Rapp’s bleak, desolate vision of romantic obsession is centered on two former college buddies – the neurotic, insecure and romantically challenged Matt (David Rothrock) and the arrogant, cocky Davis (Voss). On a trip to Amsterdam, Davis decides to end Matt’s “love drought,” which he himself caused by stealing Matt’s fiancé. Davis visits the city’s Red Light District and brings back the French prostitute Christina (Tess Cinpinski). Matt falls for Christina, and Christina falls for Davis. And Davis? He is the emotional poison that slowly, irrevocably works its way into the core of this threesome, with disastrous results for all, including Davis himself.

Rapp offers no easy answers because there are none to be found. A troubled insomniac who attempts playwriting but never completes anything, Matt lives deep within his own mind. In contrast, Davis has enjoyed instant success as a young book editor. Everyone and anything is his for the taking. And Christina has secrets of her own, which come back to haunt them all.

Given the emotional intensity and claustrophobic surroundings (Evan Crain’s seamy squalor of a set is spot on), “Red Light Winter” requires a cast and director that push Rapp’s material to its very jagged edges. Youngblood more then delivers.

Director Benjamin James Wilson, a Youngblood co-founder and resident playwright, juggles the toxic relationships with an evenness and dexterity that keeps the audience riveted. The sex and violence is graphic, but not the least gratuitous. This is how these people live and try to survive.

The excellent three-member cast is the light in this ever-darkening tale. Voss is a powerhouse of an actor and he literally bursts onto the stage, his every movement unpredictable, volatile and disturbing, yet fascinating to watch. As Christina, Tess Cipinski is believable as the faux French prostitute whose true past comes to light. She brings a temporary veneer of calm to the combustible surroundings.

But the success of this production belongs primarily to Rothrock’s tour de force performance as the needy, emotionally haunted Matt. His Matt is so fully realized in its vulnerability and innocence that it’s painful to watch at times. Somewhere in our lives we’ve all known a Matt, and Rothrock’s characterization rings true to our own memories, good or otherwise.

“Red Light Winter” challenges the audience to explore the tinderbox of romantic rivalry, possession and obsession. There is no light in this darkness but the words and images linger long after we leave the theater.

“Red Light Winter” runs through Feb. 5 at The Alchemist Theatre, 2569 S. Kinnickinnic. Call 414-426-4169 or visit www.youngbloodtheatre.com.

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