The set looks like a Pinterest board designed by Roy Lichtenstein. The costumes look like hand-me-downs from a secretary whose sense of corporate chic froze in 1981. The script looks like a very, very long round of Mad Libs. Make no mistake: “Reckless” is a loud show, and it turns up the volume even further with every zany plot twist. But it never crosses the threshold from “loud” to “noisy,” and by the time its ninety minutes are up, “Reckless” has given its audience a whirlwind tour of a young woman’s life.
The play begins with a young woman named Rachel (Angela Auguste) whose Christmastime bliss is rudely interrupted by her husband Tom (Jonathan Nathaniel Dingle-El), who tells her that he’s paid a hitman to assassinate her, and that he’s quite sorry about that, but she really ought to abandon her family and run for her life. So run she does — for five minutes at least, before the play takes a hard left and plops her in the backseat of one Mr. Lloyd Bophtelophti (Andrew Galteland) and his deaf paraplegic wife Pooty (Stephanie Gil). Rachel then gets a job working at a charity-slash-slush-fund, wins the grand prize on a strangely Oedipal version of The Newlywed Game, and witnesses what may or may not have been a murder-suicide — and this is just within the first forty or so minutes! It’s an eventful play, in every sense of the word.
Playwright Craig Lucas’s script could easily sink into the worst kind of kitchen-sink melodrama, but it’s saved by a simple decision from director Mike Flanagan, one so obvious and so invisible that I had no idea this was a deviation from the script: Lucas’s script is a two-acter, but this production of “Restless” makes the brilliant decision to remove the intermission entirely.
I know, I know, I am quite possibly the first (and last) critic to ever praise a show for depriving you of a chance to get up and stretch your legs. but the intermission is more than just a time to check your phone and go to the ladies’ room. It’s a moment to relax, debrief and let the last hour of drama sink into your mind. It is a sacred space, sort of the theatrical equivalent of a midday siesta. But this ain’t Madrid, chica, it’s the Roosevelt Extension, and “Reckless” isn’t the kind of play that you can split into arbitrary halves. It’s only sitting there in a theater for ninety uninterrupted minutes that you notice the motifs and themes carefully weaved throughout Lucas’s script: the omnipresence of television, for instance, or the sea of names and pseudonyms the protagonists take on as they go on the run. (Pooty Bophtelophti has got to be the best name for a fictional character in the history of theater.) The Theater Department may have described it as a modern-day Alice in Wonderland, but “Reckless” most closely resembles another play of yesteryear: the Theater Department’s 2015 production of Paula Vogel’s “The Baltimore Waltz,” another road-trip play where everything only clicks at the very end.
Admittedly, “Reckless” is not great if you’re looking for rich character drama. Angela Auguste and Andrew Galteland are fantastic as the leads, but all the monologues in the world can’t disguise how little agency their characters have. This is perhaps best embodied by Stephanie Gil, who plays Pooty. Gil is a fantastic actress who can turn the world on with her smile, even in a wheelchair in a non-speaking part… but she’s still in a wheelchair and silent for (almost) her entire performance.
Accordingly, I began gravitating towards the bit players, like Vanessa Chia Chung’s demented game show host, or the deeply conflicted husband played by Jonathan Dingle-El, or Rachel’s endless promenade of psychotherapists, each one more useless and more flamboyant than the last. (My favorite of the bunch is the Freudian quack played by Kaila Saunders, who’s a real hoot as she waves her bangled arms and rhapsodizes about prenatal trauma.) But the vivid performances here are not major roles, and the major roles here do not lend themselves to vivid performances.
Despite that shortcoming, “Reckless” still has plenty to offer. It’s like a Magic Eye poster: stare at it long enough, and a beautiful pattern will eventually emerge. And if it doesn’t… well, at least you’ve got some totally radical wallpaper.