In late 2007, the city of Amsterdam forced the sale of about a third of the storefront brothels in De Wallen, the infamous Red Light District whose madams have expertly turned millions of boys from all over the globe into millions of men. The bulbs are still dimming on the heels of some grisly agendas—seems a few pesky gangland goons from Russia and Eastern Europe are muscling in on the trade, making life tough for the legally owned mom 'n' pops as blue- and white-collar crime infests the area.
Adam Rapp published his Red Light Winter, Triad Productions' current entry, before the action went down; he therefore can't be expected to weigh in on its upshot. But De Wallen is almost 700 years old, only slightly younger than Amsterdam itself. There's something iconic—nay, folkloric—about a place with that kind of commerce and history (those traits, after all, could very well be the motives behind the gangsters' encroachment in the first place). If you see this, you'll be treated to an excellent performance and some fair, if over-explanatory, dialogue. You'll also come away wanting more of a feel for Amsterdam (which Rapp fails to exploit as a setting) and, by extension, for the characters.
Take Christina (Tess McIntyre). She's a young Amsterdam hooker who pretends she's from Paris as she enters the lives of fellow travelers Davis (Stephen Schmitz) and Matt (Charles Close). Matt, an aspiring playwright, is also an aspiring suicide statistic, and Davis will intervene by buying Matt a night with Christina. The trio's lives are about to twist and turn in some unexpected ways, which unfold a year later in Matt's Greenwich Village apartment.
The path to that end is vaguely tortuous, with Rapp dwelling on incidentals (like the price of rent on Matt's apartment and Christina's propensity for bumming cigarettes) when he could have used the time extolling Amsterdam's centuries-old vices and virtues. But it's Schmitz you'll be watching—he's first-rate as the swaggering, frat-boy bozo, with his booming voice and eccentric, faux karate moves. It's tough to reconcile his occupation—he's an editor by trade, and director Scott Andrew Amiotte could have helped the character come across that way with a few physical refinements. McIntyre and Close are OK, although Amiotte has them pacing at times for no clear reason, and that hurts Matt's development.
The program doesn't list a costumer, and that's too bad—the color scheme to the clothes is just right. And a big fat thanks to sound man Matt Lescault-Wood for including Tom Waits in his music beds.
Still, historic Amsterdam is the missing link; more about it would have underscored the characters (I feel strongly about this because I happen to be one of those millions of men who've seen the place up close and personal, if you get my drift). But at least Rapp is thorough in his character studies, and lighting designer Zack Wickholm handles the play's nude scene nicely. The interval is brief and dimly lit, so it may be something of a disappointment for those of you who feel a need to engage in that sort of behavior, shameful though it is.
This review is based on the performance of Feb. 7. Red Light Winter runs through March 1 at The Tenth Avenue Theatre, 930 Tenth Ave. Downtown. $15-$20. 619-241-2623, www.ticketderby.com.