“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” I’m not sure where I first heard that, and that quote has been attributed to many different people, but it encapsulates what I feel is the theme of David Auburn’s Lost Lake, currently being presented in a terrific production by Wild Women Writing and Short North Stage at The Garden Theatre in the Short North district of Columbus.
Lost Lake was first produced by Manhattan Theatre Club a year ago for a limited run, and this its area premiere. Sensitively directed by Katherine Burkman, the play is about two people who, on the outside, seem to be about as different as can be – Veronica, a black, widowed mother of two, a city woman making ends meet as a nurse practitioner; Hogan, a white middle-aged man, a virtual recluse (who considers himself a handyman) living off of his disability payments in a cabin on a lake. They meet via an online ad that Hogan posts offering up his cabin for rent for the summer, and Veronica agrees to a one-week stay with her children. What the two don’t realize until after they butt heads over a variety of problems and situations is how they are much more alike than they are different, a lesson I guess we could all learn when negotiating or facing adversity. This all probably sounds terribly serious and droll, but it’s actually quite a funny “dramedy” – that is, if it belongs to any specific genre.
James Hughes is an enigmatic Hogan, his logic often circular and his motives understood only by himself. Mr. Hughes plays him as a kind of overgrown man-boy, blindly appealing and a little goofy at the same time. He has sudden moments of rage in which I caught myself looking away as it all felt too real, like it was rude to keep watching and not try to console him. Mr. Hughes has a physical presence as Hogan that leads me to believe he could get away with just about anything, either with charm or artfully changing the subject, and he is an exciting performer to watch.
Chiquita Mullins Lee is Veronica, playing her with so many more shadings than the stereotypical Angry Black Woman we see so much of. Does Ms. Lee get angry? Sure, but she leaves the finger waving and head bobbing by the wayside, exposing someone far more vulnerable than may be expected considering her firm voice and stance. Ms. Lee’s Veronica has a maternal understanding that I would imagine comes from having and nurturing children; she sees the need for attention in Hogan, but it doesn’t keep her from taking him to task for not following through on his promises. This Veronica is not “just black” – she’s so much more, a full rainbow of emotions, demonstrating that “just black” exists only to those who choose not to look deeper. Even though this isn’t a play about race, it does come up briefly in a moment that is more insightful and telling than any loud sermon on the subject.
The Green Room at The Garden Theatre is the perfect setting for such an intimate two-person character study. Edward Carignan’s set for Hogan’s cabin says so much about him before he even appears on stage, with junk food and wrappers scattered about well-worn furniture and animal furs. So much care has been put into the set and props that they do exactly as they are meant to do: support and enhance the story.
Ms. Burkman only missteps once in her direction, but it’s a big flaw in an otherwise splendid production. There is a speech by Hogan that closes the first act in which he recounts his estrangement from his eighteen-year-old daughter; rather than let his words and performance speak for themselves, some sappy instrumental is played at a fairly loud level through the sound system. I’m not against using underscoring to supplement a moment in a play, but it is mostly a tool used in films to manipulate the audience’s feelings; here the music effectively neuters the emotion of the scene and comes off as heavy-handed. Having just a few minutes out of a two-hour play be misguided is a track record of which most directors would be envious.
Lost Lake is the kind of theatre that I love; it’s original and doesn’t contain the clichés of other love stories. Make no mistake, this is a story about love, though one that remains delightfully platonic. Not every relationship between a man and a woman needs to be consummated in a traditional way to be valid and meaningful; this is a play about such a relationship, one with two souls who are struggling and find strength in each other. Highly recommended!
***/ out of ****
Lost Lake continues through to November 22nd in The Green Room at The Garden Theatre located at 1187 North High Street in downtown Columbus, and more information can be found at http://www.shortnorthstage.org/calendar/v/485