CHILLING BUT MADDENING
We are bunkered down in a ratty East Village apartment: blood stains smeared across the walls and newspapers plastered over the windows so the sunlight seeps in with a sickly glow. Loose electric wires poke down from the punctured ceiling, and a woman lies face down, sprawled on the living room floor beside a rusty bathtub. Gun shots ricochet through the streets below and occasional bombs rattle the theater seats.
Through the Yellow Hour offers a chilling dystopian vision of Manhattan overtaken by a mysterious regime that castrates men, enumerates women, and captures babies to cultivate a super race. Writer/director Adam Rapp’s new play at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre is an immersive genre-bending experience, but the narrative ultimately comes up short – a problem that dooms the play as it progresses.
The initial intensity of Rapp’s play stems from its encompassing design, particularly the weathered set by Andromache Chalfant, the terrifyingly relentless soundscape by Christian Frederickson, and the naturalistic lighting design by Keith Parham, including several chillingly prolonged blackouts. The design relies on distance, shedding just enough light on the proceedings to let the audience’s imaginations run wild with the horrors happening beyond the deadbolted apartment doors.
Rapp’s script also aims for a calculated release of information about the strange military that has taken over the city. The gritty Hani Furstenberg plays Ellen, a survivor whose husband disappeared during the yellow hour several weeks ago. Subsisting on canned peaches as she awaits his return, Ellen must strike a precarious balance of trust with all who come to share her space – wielding a gun as needed.
The opening scenes are enthralling: Ellen, the woman sprawled on the floor when the audience enters, confronts a homeless man (Brian Mendes) for breaking and entering, and she begins a tenuous camaraderie with fellow refugee Maude (Danielle Slavick). Wounded war prisoner Hakim (Alok Tewari) later stumbles into the space with news of her long-lost husband – and more information about the Egg Heads wrecking the city. Alliances can turn in the space of a moment, and the tension continually simmers.
Yet the actual appearance of the Egg Heads in the final scenes of the play undercuts the imaginative vision the play has previously built up in our minds’ eye, and the narrative conclusion is decidedly uneven and (intentionally) uncomfortable. Through the Yellow Hour cultivates a chilling post-apocalyptic atmosphere, but fails to follow through on the story, making for a somewhat maddening, mixed experience that – at the very least – is sure to provoke dialogue and debate.
photos by Sandra Coudert
Through the Yellow Hour
Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre in New York City
scheduled to end on November 10, 2012
for tickets, call 212-627-2556 or visit Rattlestick