Christopher Denham in Red Light Winter(Photo © Paul Kolnik)
Christopher Denham in Red Light Winter
(Photo © Paul Kolnik)
All of my butch friends called me last week to ask, "Whatcha think about the Super Bowl?" How they moaned when I said, "I taped it and went to a play instead." But then I made them admit that most of the 40 Super Bowls have been anticlimactic bores. As an Adam Rapp fan, I was excited about seeing Red Light Winter, which was pretty super indeed. Oh, it's not perfect -- "but it's more interesting than the Super Bowl competitions between Tampa Bay and Oakland, the 49ers and the Chargers, and both of the ones between the Cowboys and Bills," I told my pals.

I knew they weren't convinced, so I told them about Red Light Winter, figuring I'd better use football terminology to interest them. "So," I began my discourse to each of my butch buddies, "the play begins with some hang time: A young man named Matt tries to hang himself in a seedy Amsterdam hotel room. He's soon blocked when his travelmate Davis enters with a prostitute named Christina. Looks like they're going to double-team her, but Davis actually brought her for Matt, who's desperate because he hasn't been called for holding a woman in almost four years. Davis, though, is foul, and when he says one too many an offensive line, Matt literally tackles him. Davis intentionally grounds him and roughs the kicker, but then Matt and Davis huddle around Christina, offering man-to-man coverage. When Christina goes to the neutral zone -- i.e., the bathroom down the hall -- Davis urges Matt to make a move. When Christina returns, Davis leaves the game, and Matt unexpectedly calls Christina a fake." (I didn't tell my buddies exactly why she's a fake, just in case I was interesting them enough to actually see Red Light Winter. If that seems totally unlikely, well, so were the results of Super Bowls III, IV, and XXXVI.)

"Christina does a reverse," I continued, "and though Matt has his guard up, she touches him. After many false starts and fumbles, Matt offers a touch back, and Christina gets Matt to touchdown on the bed. It's goal to go -- but Christina hands off a safety (i.e., a condom) and puts it on Matt." I didn't reveal that this is the scene for which Red Light Winter has already become famous, or that they'd be disappointed if they saw it. For one thing, Christina dims the lights before reaching the bed, which we must admit would happen in real life. But just before the condom finds its goal post, Matt sits up in bed and pulls a blanket over him, which certainly would not happen in real life. I did tell the guys, "I'm sure that the intercourse they have is a pump fake, but in terms of what's supposed to be happening, Matt scores -- though his time of possession is woefully short, the result of a hurry-up offense. Christina simply regards it as a bump-and-run, and leaves him asleep. We then get a delay of game, which we theater people call an intermission."

In Act II, Christina comes to what she assumes is Davis's New York apartment -- it's the address he gave her -- but it's actually Matt's place. "Matt gets the extra point for recognizing Christina, but she doesn't remember him. That's the play's biggest flaw," I admitted. "Considering that Matt is probably the only person to have unmasked her as a fake (and I still won't give away the reason why), she would have to remember him. Anyway, Matt doesn't have possession of her, but he goes long and outside -- for food. While he's out, Davis arrives, substitutes, intercepts his pass, and indeed does a takeaway. Christina is so smitten that she commits a turnover, and Adam soon makes contact in the end zone with a good deal of unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct."

I abandoned the football imagery to say that, yes, Red Light Winter has an overly familiar theme -- that people wind up being attracted to the wrong people, even though they know they're making a mistake -- but Rapp writes it very well. Every football game has a line judge, and I'll serve that function here: I judged many lines to be great, ranging from "Her body's terrific; no weird moles or anything" to "She wanted to put this three-ply industrial strength condom on me, which would have been like getting a massage in a snowmobile suit."

No one asked me why I didn't watch the tape of the Super Bowl when I got home. I'll tell you: I instead read the published text of Red Light Winter, which Faber and Faber brought out months ago. I was surprised to see that the "production history" page jumped the gun a little; the New York engagement was already listed as having started in January 2006. True enough, for previews began on January 20. But publishing the text so early has resulted in its not corresponding 100 percent to what happens on stage.

Two moments are slightly different. In the script, Davis describes Christina's singing voice as "Paula Abdul meets Coretta Scott King." I don't remember whose name replaced that of Mrs. King in the production at the Barrow Street Theatre , but I know I didn't hear the recently deceased racial pioneer mentioned. And while the script has Davis telling Christina that he's stopped smoking because cigarettes are "seven bucks a pack now," in the production he says that they cost eight. I expect that figure will continue to rise in the many, many productions of Red Light Winter that are sure to come.

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[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at pfilichia@theatermania.com]