Guy Boyd, Jeremy Strong, and Julianne Nicholson
in Parraffin
(© Sandra Coudert)
Guy Boyd, Jeremy Strong, and Julianne Nicholson
in Parraffin
(© Sandra Coudert)
A committed and consistently engaging ensemble cast brings Adam Rapp's The Hallway Trilogy, at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, to vivid and oftentimes discomfiting life. But while Rapp's three-play cycle, set in the same Lower East Side apartment building in 50-year intervals, is undoubtedly ambitious and filled with deliciously off-kilter characters, it also suffers from unwieldy writing and plot holes -- primarily in the trilogy's final installment.

All three plays are a little over 90 minutes apiece, and run in rotating repertory with marathon performances on Sundays. The first, entitled Rose, and directed by the playwright himself, is set in 1953 and depicts the bizarrely intertwined lives of the building's inhabitants, who include sisters Mary (Julianne Nicholson) and Megan (Sarah Lemp); Russian immigrant Orest (William Apps) and his unseen mother; Princeton-educated communist Jerry (Louis Cancelmi); the mysterious and mostly silent Marbles (Nick Lawson); and the building's superintendent O'Neill (Guy Boyd).

It's this latter man that the play's title character (played by Katherine Waterston) has come to see, believing him to be the playwright Eugene O'Neill. The production is well-paced, and features a balance between odd humor and a keenly felt sadness that pervades the lives of nearly every character in the piece, with the possible exception of Louis Zap (Danny Mastrogiorgio), who owns a nearby Italian restaurant and has a strange knowledge of and interest in his neighbors. Unfortunately, a rather lengthy and overly expository monologue from Rose's husband, Richard (Logan Marshall-Green) mars the effectiveness of the play's ending.

The second installment of the trilogy, Paraffin, directed by Daniel Aukin, is the most satisfying, thanks in large part to the outstanding central performances of Nicholson as the pregnant and unhappily married Margo and Jeremy Strong as her brother-in-law Lucas, a war veteran now confined to a wheelchair. Both characters are frustrated with their lives, longing for changes that they don't realistically expect can take place. While the play is far from a romantic comedy, Nicholson and Strong have an undeniable chemistry, and their heart-to-heart during the 2003 blackout positively drips with sexual tension.

Paraffin includes numerous subplots regarding the activities of the building's other residents, most notably Margo's debt-ridden husband Denny (Apps), whose actions lead directly into the play's violent conclusion. Rapp's skill for absurdly over-the-top dialogue is nicely showcased in an exchange between Leshik (Lawson), a goon who is threatening Denny, and Dena (Sue Jean Kim), a friend of Margo's -- particularly as the two actors deliver it with a flirtatiousness that belies the rather obscenely graphic contents of the sinister message that Leshik is asking her to pass on.

Stephen Tyrone Williams, Logan Marshall-Green,
and Robert Beitzel in Nursing
(© Sandra Coudert)
Stephen Tyrone Williams, Logan Marshall-Green,
and Robert Beitzel in Nursing
(© Sandra Coudert)
The final play, Nursing, directed by Trip Cullman, is set in the future as a young man named Lloyd (Marshall-Green) agrees to be injected with numerous fatal diseases and be nursed back to health as part of a living exhibit within the Mary Ellen Baird Museum of Disease and Nursing, which is what the building from the previous plays has now become.

Marshall-Green delivers a tour-de-force performance, somehow making his character sympathetic despite the awful things we learn he did as a soldier, as well as his emotionally cruel treatment of his brother, Joe (Robert Beitzel), who comes to try to talk him out of this destructive path he's embarked upon. Cancelmi delivers a sweetly understated performance as Andy, one of Lloyd's nurses, who has a crush on his patient, while Maria Dizzia is coolly efficient as Lloyd's other nurse, Joan, who harbors a secret agenda. Solid work is also seen from Stephen Tyrone Williams as a guard at the facility, who may have the best understanding for why Lloyd is submitting himself to this painful process.

Sadly, the futuristic world that Rapp has created here does not seem especially well thought-out. For starters, there seems to be a curious lack in advanced electronic equipment -- including video surveillance which would surely expose Joan's plot earlier than she wants. However, her behavior isn't the only one that's questionable, as Andy would also likely get in trouble after he asks for and receives a kiss from Lloyd during the museum's regular hours of operation, in full view of the paying public. But this lapse in professionalism is not even remarked upon. Additional aspects of Nursing also stretch credulity, rendering this play the most problematic within the trilogy.

Although all three works take place in the same apartment hallway, set designer Beowulf Boritt has incorporated subtle and not-so-subtle differences to the locale to showcase the passage of time. Tyler Micoleau's superb lighting design beautifully illuminates the space, particularly when recreating the outside light that streams in a window at one end of the hall. And while Rapp's own work is not always as detail-conscious as that of his designers, the trilogy still makes a memorable impression.