Killer Christmas

The Arizona Repertory Theatre adeptly handles a darkly funny Christmas with Reckless

There's a lot of love on display at Christmas. Some obsess over the holiday with a passion that involves so much good cheer and over-the-top expectations that you just know there are going to be some meteor-sized lumps in the gravy and cats knocking over the Christmas tree. Then there are some among us who love to hate Christmas and often fulfill their holiday desires simply, perhaps with good Scotch or bourbon. (Or prayer and meditation, if that's your thing.) But since it can be argued that hate and love lie on a continuum, both of these sort of folks always seem to find each other and clash, often rather humorously, in stage and movie productions. A timely example would be Arizona Repertory Theatre's production of Craig Lucas' play Reckless.

Of course, there are also the folks who are just generally miserable for the choices they've made in their lives and think Christmas provides the right time to act on their misery. Bah humbug.

Tom (Zackry Colston) is just such a person in Reckless. He has married Rachel (Grace Kirkpatrick) who never met a moment of silence she could stand and is generally just so enthusiastic about everything—and doubly so about Christmas—that, although he seems like a nice enough guy, he decides a pretty perfect Christmas present for himself is to hire someone to kill Rachel. But because he really is a nice enough guy, he changes his mind just as the killer-for-hire is breaking a window to enter their house, confesses to Rachel what he has planned and pushes her out of the window in her nightie and slippers. (And yes, it's cold and snowing. What Christmas could be perfect without that?)

Thus begins a jigsaw puzzle of a play told in teeny-tiny pieces (mostly micro-scenes or vignettes) put together by a staff of ninja scene shifters with the cooperation of a cast of willing and capable young actors.

So ensues a couple of decades worth of sometimes bizarre, sometimes bewildering and most of the time amusing journey, the victim/hero of which is Rachel. Into the truck of perfect stranger Lloyd (Scott Murdock); into the house he shares with his—uh, unconventional—wife Pooty (Jamie Grossman); into a job in which she becomes a whistle-blower to the embezzling ways of the secretary (Sarah Ambrose); into winning a goodly sum on a TV game show the writers don't even seem understand; into, ultimately, a therapist who encouragesRachel to seek someone else that might be able to help her get to the source of her—being. And then to—nah, this really should be discovered by the audience. It makes about as much sense as anything else, and it enables us to take away with us a moment of sweetness.

Giving this shaking-a-snow-globe of a script enough stability to make a modicum of sense and something to laugh about, director Hank Stratton has had to enlist a crew that could figure out and execute successfully a logistical nightmare, in which there are too many scene changes for us count. Really. This is not an exaggeration. And, hats off. They are executed with noteworthy precision. .

Scenic designer Amy Sue Hazel's backdrop for all this action is just what's needed, and she and her crew have rigged an estimable amount of snow falling only to be cleared and then fall again. (It's harder than it seems.) The compact set pieces that establish each scene are more than adequate, especially because, remember, they require traveling repeatedly. The game show "Your Mother or Your Wife"'s backdrop is rich with blindingly sparkly sleaze. Or maybe that's just the host (Ethan Kirschbaum). Or both.

Joy Halliday's costumes are fine, and the staccato of musical notes, part of sound designer Kiara Johnson's work, leads us from one scene to another giving us just the right clues to make it all work.

All of the performers are fine, and, because of the in-and-out-and-on-again nature of the scenes, they are able to be instantly and credibly in the moment—an impressive feat. But there are a couple that are particularly notable. Kierna Conner, as one of Rachel's therapists, launches into an insane demonstration of how one should deal with their anger. Her breathless barrage of fury absolutely rocks the house.

Finally, Kirkpatrick creates a perfect Rachel. With a style, a rhythm and a charming innocence she transforms an initially clueless character into a tender and sympathetic woman of lost innocence, while at the same time mining all the humor available in the strange gyrations and bumps and grinds of the action.

This is not a great play, and Stratton has opted to pretty much ignore the dark side that many have found in Lucas' script, but in the hands of these professionals-in-training at the university, the production is a fun one.