BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
Admirable acting and keen design work — and even some good writing — unfortunately cannot deny a dawning recognition that Adam Rapp’s new three-play collection, “The Hallway Trilogy,” is a dramatic case of patchy and gradually diminishing returns.
Among Rapp’s more than a dozen plays staged over the last decade, his best known work is “Red Light Winter,” a steamy romance that ran Off Broadway for six months in 2006. Composed in a variety of styles, Rapp’s other plays often mash up weird stories with eccentric characters and lurid scenes. Such is the case with his latest endeavor.
Premiering this week at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater’s home base in the West Village, “The Hallway Trilogy” is a vaguely related trio of 100-minute dramas occurring in different eras in the same shabby corridor along the third floor of a tenement building on New York’s Lower East Side.
Set in 1953, “Rose” mixes whimsicality with grimy realism. The title figure (Katherine Waterston), a gently delusional actress, taps at the door of the superintendent (Guy Boyd), who she mistakenly believes is playwright Eugene O’Neill. A Russian cornet player (William Apps), an earnest Communist (Louis Cancelmi), a mostly-mute trickster (Nick Lawson) and contrasting sisters, one a drudge (Sarah Lemp) and the other a desperate beauty (Julianne Nicholson), are some of the neighbors Rose meets.
An urban melodrama, “Paraffin” occurs on the day and into the evening of the 2003 blackout. A druggie musician (Apps), his pregnant wife (Nicholson) and his paraplegic Afghan vet brother (Jeremy Strong) comprise a triangle intersected by a Polish hoodlum (Lawson), the wife’s best chum (Sue Jean Kim) and a lovelorn superintendent (Danny Mastrogiorgio), among others. During a passionate encounter between the bitter veteran and his sister-in-law, the ghost of Rose silently materializes.
“Nursing” is a sci-fi horror show set in the disease-free world of 2053. The tenement has been rehabbed as a medical museum that exhibits Lloyd (Logan Marshall-Green), a suicidal wretch who allows himself (for pay) to be injected with the likes of cholera to illustrate their ghastly effect for visitors. A doctor with a crush (Cancelmi), a nurse on a secret mission (Maria Dizzia), a glib museum guide (Kim) and an armed guard (Stephen Tyrone Williams) are characters mired in the explosions of excrement and blood that spray the glass partition separating Lloyd from the audience.
If “Rose” suggests an awkward homage to Tennessee Williams and “Paraffin” resembles a Stephen Adly Guirgis-style block party, the bizarre doings of “Nursing” is totally Rapp. Some of the writing is lovely – especially long monologues – and a few of the characters are arresting, but “Rose” seems too contrived while “Paraffin” simply finishes with a bang rather than actually concludes. For all of its sick-o imaginativeness, “Nursing” bogs down in back-stories before detonating into a ludicrous splatter fest.
In spite of the disappointing material, “The Hallway Trilogy” offers a showcase of excellent acting by a 14-member company dressed with care and craft by Jessica Pabst. Designer Beowulf Boritt contributes a long, realistically grubby corridor that manifests the wear of passing decades, often exquisitely lit by Tyler Micoleau. “Paraffin” and “Nursing” are directed respectively (and well) by Daniel Aukin and Trip Cullman while “Rose” is staged (also well) by the author.
Each piece stands alone — more or less, although usually less — so if any of these stories sound appealing, you may want to check them out individually as they run in repertory. The cumulative effect of the trilogy is negligible except to reaffirm that Rapp is a talented writer who only sporadically rises to his considerable best.
“The Hallway Trilogy” continues through March 20 at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, 224 Waverly Place, New York. Call (212) 868-4444 or visit www.rattlestick.org.