Theater Review By Brian Scott Lipton
(Opening Night Photos-Magda Katz)
Don’t bad things happen when single women rent secluded cabins in the woods? That’s the major question that hangs over the 90 minutes of ‘Lost Lake,” a watchable if puzzling two-hander by Pulitzer Prize winner David Auburn (“Proof”), now at Manhattan Theatre Club-New York City Center Stage I.
Actually, two more questions emerge while we watch these goings-on. First, as desperate as New York City nurse-practitioner Veronica Barnes (Tracie Thoms) may be to give her children a week-long vacation, why would she rent the shabby lodge from its creepy owner Terry Hogan (John Hawkes) once she’s met him and seen the ragtag conditions of his home. It almost seems like he’s wearing an invisible T-shirt with the logo “psychopath” etched on it. And once she’s there for her sojourn, and things begin to go badly, why doesn’t she just get back in the (rented) car and head home.
Without giving away the outcome – which admittedly isn’t what you might expect – the larger question remains why Auburn would choose to pen such a slight tale or why ace director Daniel Sullivan would spend his valuable time staging it (on J. Michael Griggs’ sublime re-creation of the shoddy lodge). Perhaps these gifted artists just wanted to try something different.
For his part, Hawkes – who made his mark with Oscar-nominated role as the terrifying methadone addict Teardrop in “Winter’s Bone” – is in more familiar territory as the sleazy Hogan. Still, he does deliver a performance of remarkable depth and humanity. Slowly, as Auburn reveals more about Hogan’s troubled life, including his problematic relationships with many family members, we (and Veronica) become more wary of him. And after a stunning little scenic coup de theatre late in the play, our understanding of Terry’s behavior deepens.
Auburn is somewhat less successful in creating an equally rounded portrait of Veronica, played by Thoms (best known for the film “Rent” and TV’s “Cold Case”) with a tad too much understatement. Does she encourage Hogan’s “friendship” simply because she’s a “helper” or does she sense a kindred spirit of some sort? It’s not entirely clear to me. And while Auburn can be commended for not creating any sort of sexual dynamic between the two characters, conversely, that sort of frisson might make this whole play more believable.
“Lost Lake” isn’t the worst place for a 90-minute getaway (especially on a cold November day or evening), but it hardly ranks as a top-10 theatrical vacation spot either.
Lost Lake runs through December 21 at Manhattan Theatre Club-New York City Center Stage I (131 West 55th Street. For tickets, call 212-581-1212 or visit www.nycitycenter.org.
*Photos: Joan Marcus
Opening Night Photos: Magda Katz