Rachel (Alyssa Keene) is a Christmas junkie. She gets high by anticipating Santa, experiences uncontrolled euphoria at the sight of falling snow, and nearly swoons at the sound of holiday carols. But this Christmas Eve, her husband, Tom (Mathew Middleton), gives her the worst present ever.
“I took a contract out on your life!” he blurts out. The hitman is on his way, so out the window she goes, fleeing for her life in her robe and slippers, with the parting words, “This is so . . . mean!”
Barely ten minutes in, Reckless jumps the first of many sharks. Delightfully ludicrous, implausible to the point of perfection, Craig Lucas’ 1983 play, which made its West Coast premiere at Theater Schmeater on Nov. 18, is a study in the sublime consequences of letting go and just going along for the ride.
Which is exactly what Rachel does. Picked up at the corner gas station by a scruffy but good-hearted stranger named Lloyd (Carter Rodriquez), Rachel hesitates only a moment before agreeing to spend Christmas in Springfield, Mass. with Lloyd and his wife, Pooty (Megan Ahiers).
Rachel keeps her past a secret, though she acknowledges there’s something unusual about her situation, babbling, “You think I’ve escaped from an institution, don’t you?”
At first, discretion is easy enough. Wheelchair-bound Pooty is deaf, Lloyd is jovial and quick to trust, and the psychiatrist (Tracy Leigh) that Rachel confides in is convinced that everything she recounts is a dream.
But it turns out that Rachel isn’t the only one with a penchant for changing her name and cordoning off the details of her past. As first Pooty, then Lloyd, reveal their barely believable secrets, Rachel realizes that the sense of freedom she experienced when she ran away from her typical housewife life is as fragile as Christmas tinsel. “The past is irrelevant. It’s something you wake up from,” she tells Lloyd.
“The past is something you wake up to. It’s a nightmare you wake up to every day,” he counters, just before he, Rachel and Pooty decide to use their collective talents for deceit to fraudulently win $100,000 on a kooky game show.
In many ways, Reckless is a twisted version of the classic road trip tale. As the symbolic kid in the back seat, Rachel is, at first, cheerily agog at every passing spectacle. But when she and Lloyd are obliged to literally hit the road after a nasty incident involving a bottle of deadly Christmas champagne “from Santa,” Rachel takes the wheel and hightails it from Springfield, Mass, to . . . Springfield, Ohio.
Facing the need to continually reinvent both her past and Lloyd’s, she hysterically exclaims, “We can go from Springfield to Springfield if we want to!” And from Christmas to Christmas. Forever. As a child Rachel dreamed of living someplace where Christmas reigned all year long, and as teenager she longed to run off with a mysterious man, but still, life on the lam with Lloyd pails quickly.
Keene’s portrayal of Rachel walks a fine line between loveably goofy and cartoonish. Overly enthusiastic one moment, wildly desperate the next, she manages to maintain a steady through-line of optimism and hopeful yearning running just below the surface of her manic character. She may become complacent when the Christmas spirit overwhelms her, but she’s not dumb.
In the hands of a lesser actor Rachel would be unbearable, but reigned in by Keene, she’s a glorious and believable muddle who never succumbs. As a result, the audience never stops rooting for her.
As the quintessential “basement theater,” Theater Schmeater offers little in the way of scenic spectacle as Rachel and Lloyd journey into darker and darker terrain. Set designer Michael Mowery presents a backdrop worthy of a dollar store’s holiday window display, consisting of white cut-out snowflakes on blue walls spangled with a healthy dose of glitter.
His set leaves the heavy lifting to director Carol Roscoe, who more than rises to the challenge. Cleverly transforming Rachel’s marriage bed into a car, Roscoe keeps the entire cast in a state of subtle motion, even when they are paralyzed by the latest U-turn in the plot. With the pace of a getaway car, the production swerves from improbability to improbability with few, if any, wrong turns.
If you go: Reckless runs through Dec. 17 at Theater Schmeater. $15-$22. For tickets, visit www.schmeater.org.