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.
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
Running time: 95 minutes without an intermission