RECKLESS * Written by Craig Lucas * Directed by Mark Brokaw * Starring Mary-Louise Parker * Biltmore Theater, New York City through November 28.

“Do we ever really know another person?” That’s the essential question that runs through Craig Lucas’s Reckless, and Rachel Fitzsimons (Mary-Louise Parker) has every right to ask it. On Christmas Eve, just when she’s hoping her husband will gift her with the puppy she’s been hinting about, he tells her the crash she hears downstairs is the hit man he’s hired to kill her. Escaping through the snow in her nightgown and slippers, she hitches a ride with a guy named Lloyd Boftilofti (Michael O’Keefe) who’s run away from his own life, changed his name, and set up house with a deaf-mute paraplegic named Pooty (Rosie Perez) who turns out not to be deaf after all. And somehow we doubt that her birth certificate has “Pooty” on it either.

Reckless has the surface charm of an absurdist comedy but the play has the dark undertow of a disturbing Jungian dream about the slipperiness of identity and how trauma forms character. Like French farce, the play requires fleetness and delicacy – among other things, the possibility exists that the string of adventures Rachel undergoes is one suburban housewife’s midwinter night’s dream. Lucas’s longtime collaborator Norman René directed three versions of the play to soufflé perfection (its 1983 premiere, a 1988 Off-Broadway revival, and the 1995 movie starring Mia Farrow) before he died of AIDS in 1996. Alas, Mark Brokaw’s Broadway rendition comes off lumpy and undercooked.

You’d think Mary-Louise Parker would be perfect as Rachel. After all, she and Lucas have been a team of sorts since 1990, when she co-starred with Alec Baldwin in Prelude to a Kiss and played the gay gang’s girl-pal in the movie Longtime Companion (both directed by René). In shows like Prelude, Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive, Proof (for which she won every award in the book), and HBO's Angels in America, Parker proved adept at playing someone whose sunny exterior was at odds with a turbulent soul. But Reckless calls for a more intense and nuanced journey, from ditzy innocent to mute victim to wised-up woman, that Parker’s performance never quite completes. 

The play’s loving jabs at psychotherapy are the highlight of the show, thanks to Debra Monk’s hilarious takes as six different doctors, one of whom shoves a rolled-up yoga mat into Rachel’s hands and shoves her toward a blow-up clown-doll screaming, “Hit the father! Hit the father!”

The Advocate, November 23, 2004