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Lost Lake

Slight new play by author of "Proof" offers John Hawkes and Tracie Thoms a chance to shine as upstate New York landlord and tenant renting a summer cabin.

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Tracie Thoms and John Hawkes in a scene from “Lost Lake” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

The title of Pulitzer Prize-winning author David (Proof) Auburn’s new play Lost Lake is symbolic as it really describes the condition of its two characters. Terry Hogan, a rather sleazy landlord, and Veronica Barnes, a nurse practitioner and single parent, come together when city resident Veronica wants to rent Hogan’s upstate New York cabin for a week of summer fun with her two children. Both people are beset with a myriad of problems not all of their own making. In these roles John Hawkes and Tracie Thoms shine, making more out of their characters than the author has written. Unfortunately, though we come to know a great deal about both of them, this quiet little play never builds to any dramatic climax and Lost Lake is like one of those pastoral novels in which not much happens but people bare their souls by the end.

Veronica has found Hogan’s offer on the Internet and come up to see the cabin for herself. There are many things wrong with it: a shutter is hanging off the window, there is no hot water, the two front burners on the stove don’t work, and there aren’t enough beds as Veronica’s daughter is bringing a friend. Worst of all, the dock has rotting boards and the diving board is gone but Veronica’s children don’t swim as of yet. Veronica is more than suspicious as Hogan’s clothes are in the drawers but he says he will be moving in with his brother and sister-in-law for the summer. However, the price is right and Hogan is willing to divide the payment into three parts. As a black woman, Veronica hasn’t found she has been welcomed by other upstate renters.

When she returns with the (unseen) children, only the shutter has been fixed which means Hogan will have to make many other visits to get things in working order. He complains that the Homeowners’ Association is suing him and that he doesn’t have the money for the lawsuit. Veronica confides that her husband died two years ago and that she is having trouble at work. But Hogan’s bad choices are just the tip of the iceberg and he is spiraling downward while Veronica’s problems only seem to be mounting. As Hogan’s visits increase in the course of the week of Veronica’s visit, the two become confidants and bond over their problems which appear to be spinning out of control.

Auburn doesn’t tell us enough about the back stories of these characters so that the portraits aren’t fully drawn, and each scene is structured to reveal only one new item for each. However, Hawkes and Thoms fill in a great many of the gaps with their layered performances. When Hogan promises to fix all of the problems at the cabin site, we instinctively know that won’t happen. When Veronica tells Hogan he needs a bath, we believe it as well as that his clothes have not been washed in a long time. During Hawkes’ drunken scene we fear for both characters. Thoms makes Veronica a fierce lady who will always roll with the punches although life is beginning to get her down, while Hawkes’ very walk makes us suspicious of his good faith. Both Hawkes and Thoms bring great sympathy to their characters and we can pride ourselves that we are not as badly off as they are.

Tracie Thoms and John Hawkes in a scene from “Lost Lake” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Director Daniel Sullivan has been reunited with playwright Auburn after having staged the Manhattan Theatre Club productions of both Proof and The Columnist. His direction as always is polished and assured but he does not seem to have been able to build the play so that we have any sense of a climax or a catharsis, nor of tragic heights. The design team, however, is fully in tune with the material. J. Michael Griggs’ setting for the main room of the shabby cabin is one in which everywhere you look you notice something else that needs to be fixed, from the four mismatched chairs at the table to the tear in the armchair in the living room. Robert Perry’s lighting (which includes the view of the property out the large picture window) has a poetic quality and incorporates many moods. Jess Goldstein’s costumes have the believably lived-in look of what these people would be wearing. Fitz Patton’s original music and sound design are both eerie and ominous.

Lost Lake offers two actors a tour de force of acting challenges which John Hawkes and Tracie Thoms brilliantly fulfill. Unfortunately, playwright David Auburn and director Daniel Sullivan have let them down with a play that works like a series of short stories on a theme but has no real dramatic impact.

Lost Lake (through December 21, 2014)

Manhattan Theatre Club

New York City Center Stage I, 131 W. 55th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-581-1212 or visit http://www.mtc-nyc.org or http://www.nycitycenter.org

Running time: 95 minutes without an intermission

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Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief
About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (637 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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