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A CurtainUp Review
Lost Lake

Look, it happens. — Hogan, about losing a job

Not to me.— Veronica

It's happened to me maybe 20, 30 times.— Hogan

Yeah well you're a loser.—Veronica
Lost Lake
Tracy Thoms and John Hawkes
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Imagine that you're a widow trying to give your seven and ten-year-old kids a fresh air summer holiday away from the noise and pressures of New York City. A week is all the vacation you get from your hospital nursing job. So a cottage not far from Manhattan seems a fine, affordable idea.

Veronica (Tracie Thoms), one of the two characters in David Auburn's Lost Lake fits that imaginary profile and situation exactly. When the play opens she's checking out J. Michel Grigg's sun-drenched but drably furnished and equipped cottage. It's months before the planned holiday, but Veronica wisely wants to check out the place in person rather than rely on what she saw in an internet ad.

Smart woman, our Veronica. But not smart enough!

The countryside and lake viewed from the cottage are beautiful. But this isn't a lake community with a life guard. In fact, there's no indication that there would be other families around, not just for sociability but in case of an emergency.

The arrival of Hogan (John Hawkes), her potential landlord and the play's other character makes a holiday at this place even less advisable. He's friendly and talkative and promises to fix the non-functioning hot water and supply a needed extra bed. But there's something creepy and untrustworthy about him that would make even a less naive woman than Veronica appears to be see the potential of a holiday from hell.

Of course, if Veronica did the sensible thing, we wouldn't have a play for Tracie Thoms and John Hawkes to shine in. And shine they do, especially Hawkes who's best known for his film and TV roles (Deadwood, Eastbound & Down, Winter's Bone, The Sessions). The role of Hogan is made to order for his remarkable way of getting inside oddball and at times menacing characters (e.g. Teardrop in Winter's Bone).

To get back to the situation the play puts these two fine actors in. As I watched Thoms's Veronica make what's bound to be a bad deal, I thought maybe David Auburn, had added a mystery to a resume that includes the Pulitzer Prize winning Proof and the more recent bio-drama The Columnist ; also a very moving solo play about a European intellectual, The Journals of Mihail Sebastian .

That somewhat creepy first impression of Hogan lingers. Hawkes manages to make him sort of smart and funny yet also come off as a time bomb that could go off if touched the wrong way.

As it turns out, the mystery about all that happens by the time Veronica and her kids arrive for their week at the lake is this: To find some clue to explain why she compounds her error in coming, by staying. Unsurprisingly, Hogan has delivered on none of his promises. No hot water. No extra bed. Not only has he failed to remove his clothing but his porno magazines.

Granted, Veronica expresses her displeasure and demands a partial refund. Neither is she especially pleased to have the garrulous Hogan constantly show up. Having her own recently intensified problems to deal with she'd be just as happy not to hear about his difficulties with the Community Council, his sister-in-law and his daughter. Yet, Hogan does embroil her in his unhappy past and current history, and in the process lead her to reveal details about the crisis in her own life.

Auburn's script and the actors' richly shaded performances make for an intriguing portrait of two very different people, both of whom have reached a critical crossroad in their lives. Except for an incident in which Hogan is actually more hero than chronic loser, the only high drama comes in the Sam Shepardesque last of this one-act two-hander's five scenes. That scene, which takes place six months after the end of the one-week rental period, is a gut wrencher that shows Hawkes at his most potent.

Mr. Auburn does make good on his intent for this play (as stated in an interview when he was working on the play at the O'Neill Center). That's to bring two strangers together and testing what their antipathies and obligations to one another might be. He's given a sturdy helping hand by director Daniel Sullivan (who also directed Proof and The Columnist), Manhattan Theatre Club's typically classy production values — and most especially from the performances of Thoms and Hawkes.

Eeven with some real drama in the final scene, Lost Lake, feels longer than its ninety minutes. Ultimately, it's a slice of drama rather than a whole and believable dramatic loaf.

Lost Lake by David Auburn
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Cast: Tracie Thoms (Veronica), John Hawkes (Hogan)
Sets: J. Michael Griggs
Costumes: Jess Goldstein
Lighting: Robert Perry
Original music & sound: FitzPatton
Movement consultant: Thomas Schall Stage Manager: David Sugarman
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
MTC at New York City Center – Stage I 131 West 55th Street
From 10/21/14; opening 11/11/14; closing 12/21/14.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at November press preview
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