Running weekends through Dec. 10 at 8 p.m.
The Cigar Factory
701 East Bay Street
It's tough for married couples to surprise each other with new Christmas gift ideas every year. What can a husband get a wife who won't stop talking, blessed as she is with eternal optimism and high-flung holiday memories from childhood? Well, he can always get her a hit man, hired to put her out of hubby's misery.
Trouble is, this contract's for life, not just for Christmas. Tom's wife Rachel is forced to flee from her home and family. In a preposterously easy fashion, she hooks up with nice guy Lloyd Bophtelophti and his wife, a deaf-mute paraplegic named Pooty. Rachel changes her name, lands a job at a human services agency, and gets the chance to reinvent herself, but the living ain't easy for long. She gets stuck with a stuffed shirt colleague and finds that no one's being completely honest with her.
The inhabitants of this surreal world all have secrets to hide and lies to tell, but the show doesn't end in a traditional manner when their true characters are revealed. In a reflection of modern life, Reckless is ludicrous, fast-paced, full of fucked-up people all connected by six degrees of unlikely coincidence.
Director Greg Tavares, a member of the PURE ensemble and part of the three-headed improv beast The Have Nots!, keeps this tricky play ticking along. For the most part, the channel-flipping pace stays lively and there's a good balance between dark farce and serious character development. Myriad scene changes slow things down a tad, but Eric Doucette and Eric Kingrea keep the audience entertained as a pair of go-getting elves. With jolly aplomb they shift furniture around to create mini-sets, ingeniously designed by Julia Levy.
PURE's artistic director and cofounder Sharon Graci dominates this show -- as Rachel, she's rarely off the stage. In some ways, Rachel resembles her dearly wished-for Christmas present: she's as curious and excited as a puppy, bouncing back from her misadventures with a vulnerable naivete that only grates on occasion (one character, sick of her burbling, tells her to "shut the fuck up!"). Graci misses no opportunity to create memorable moments, as her character is progressively traumatized, before her redemption in a touching final scene.
There are plenty of chances for other cast members to shine. R. W. Smith is believably solid as do-gooder Lloyd, with some funny facial expressions conveying his emotions when he has no lines to say. Ann Elizabeth "Biz" Lyon astounds with her portrayal of six different therapists, switching from one identity to another with a chameleon's confidence, funny or tender as the occasion demands. Likewise, Patrick Sharbaugh portrays a genial office boss, a sweaty game show host, and three other roles with energetic commitment.
Lisa Moraschi Shattuck brings depth to the part of Pooty despite a couple of out-of-place smiles. Jessica Chase is very entertaining as the no-nonsense working witch Trish Hammers. PURE co-founder Rodney Lee Rogers also has more than one role, tucked up in an elf-sized bed as Tom at the beginning and returning as a college kid towards the end.
Rogers, Graci, and Smith help to accentuate the play's symmetry and its other delights. With its fairy tale quality, Reckless has plenty of surprises for the audience, but for all the nightmarish dashes of darkness, there's also a hell of a lot of humor and powerful, poignant moments, too.
This production has plenty of room for Tavares to make his manic improv mark while still coming across as tight and carefully considered. Check out Reckless for its purposefully scattershot narrative, its fearless cast, its colorful imagery, or simply as an antidote to the multitude of Scrooges humbugging their way across the state.
(Arts and Screen Editor Patrick Sharbaugh recused himself from editing this review, due to his participation in the production. --Ed.)