Review: 'Yellow Hour' darkly funny doomsday drama

JENNIFER FARRAR Associated Press Published:

NEW YORK (AP) -- Playwright Adam Rapp loves a good apocalypse, and has invented another interesting one for his surreal, darkly funny new play, "Through the Yellow Hour," which opened Thursday night off-Broadway at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in the West Village.

Rapp, whose recent "Hallway Trilogy" ended with global germ warfare, wrote and directs this near-satire of a domestic drama, set inside an apartment in a dystopian, unsettling future New York City, in which the world as we know it no longer exists.

In a rubble-strewn, bomb-blasted urban jungle, men are being tortured and viciously castrated (it's unclear why,) white babies are sold or bartered at a premium, a mysterious militia of "Egg Heads" is waging vicious war on just about everybody. Nobody knows who's in charge, and the sickly air is full of ash.

We hear of these and many more ghastly situations while holed up with gun-toting, hypodermic-wielding heroine Ellen (a tough, seen-it-all performance by Hani Furstenberg). Ellen is hiding out in her barricaded East Village apartment, hoping her husband will return, although it's been 52 days since he went out for milk. Fortunately, she was a nurse before the world fell into chaos, and is supplied with a hot commodity for trade and survival: hallucinogens and painkillers.

Rapp's dialogue is laced with bleakly humorous moments and social incongruities. Ellen offers plenty of sarcastic comments on the current state of events. "Tangelos are all the rage" she says bitterly, referencing the complete lack of food in the beleaguered city. She can be a polite, even generous hostess, when not pointing her handgun menacingly at her guests.

In short order Ellen's shabby apartment is visited by a would-be burglar, (Brian Mendes whose skill as an onstage corpse is admirable), a drug-addicted woman selling one of her infant daughters (Danielle Slavick, initially feral but still ladylike at times), and an escaped prisoner.

Alok Tewari is affecting as the gravely injured prisoner, Hakim, whose grisly account of tortures is a typical Rappsian touch, as are a trio of mysterious, perhaps corporate-backed, bizarrely clean visitors. Accompanied by an ice princess bureaucrat (Joanne Tucker, coolly aloof), a shady-seeming doctor (Matt Pilieci, nicely businesslike) sticks needles into the baby like a pincushion while testing her for "purity."

Vladimir Versailles wears an air of sweet innocence and wonder as a teenage farm boy unexpectedly dropped into danger. Although Rapp's premise is intriguing, there are a few inconsistencies -- perhaps deliberately so, given his quirkiness. Desperately fearful of germs and sepsis, Ellen strip-searches a visitor, suspiciously looking for sores, but leaves a dead body rotting in the corner.

The pace is a little slow, though the 100-minutes-long production is successfully suspenseful. During many periods of silence the audience must strain to see what's happening on the often dimly-lit stage. At one point, a lantern provides the only light but shines painfully into audience members' eyes.

The design team has created a credible, claustrophobic atmosphere of embattled urban unease, with a constant undercurrent of automatic weapons fire and explosions, eerie lighting, and distant shouts and cries signaling never-ending unrest. Rapp's doomsday scenarios, while extreme, are not totally implausible, and should make everyone a little nervous.