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A CurtainUp Review
Through the Yellow hour

"Even in the dark of night, there is always a glimmer. "— Ellen
through the yellow hour
Hani Furstenberg,Brian Mendes, and Danielle Slavick
(Photo credit: Sandra Coudert)
There is a ready-made audience for a play by Adam Rapp that pretty much knows what it is in for/getting into, and rightly assume it will be getting a dramatic experience that is unsettling, unnerving and far removed from the run-of-the-mill theater experience. For those who may not be among Rapp’s core followers but are willing to let this unconventionally audacious playwright take them on a journey more horrifically hellish than they might otherwise be prepared, then his latest play Through the Yellow Hour fits the bill.

In keeping with the relentlessly grim and ravenously graphic oeuvre that defines many of Rapp’s plays, Through the Yellow Hour is also a startling and extremely visceral response to the timely and topical political-social upheavals and uprisings in the Middle East. It is Rapp’s most politically charged play.

Set in an America that has been attacked and currently under siege, the play takes place in a barely livable apartment in New York City’s East Village, where a toilet appears to be the best seat in the house and a bathtub sits in the center of the main room through which we can see the kitchen area. The walls and ceiling have miraculously withstood not only aerial bombardment but also the periodic firing of machine guns and shelling that Ellen (Hani Furstenberg) a thirty year-old nurse can hear coming from the street.

There is a dramatic jolt when Ellen is awakened in the dark by the sudden fearsome appearance of a hulking bearded man covered in ash (Brian Mendes). Having gained entrance through an unstable window, he lunges at her with a crowbar while singing in Portuguese. Ellen is forced to shoot him at close range as he falls bleeding and dying into a heap.

This is where Rapp ratchets up his taste for the truly bizarre as the unnerved Ellen is left with a dead man propped up in the corner of designer Andromache Chalfant’s grim set, darkly lit by Keith Farham. Nevertheless, she responds to frantic knocking on the door through which a filthy and disheveled Maude (Danielle Slavick) enters with an infant carefully hidden in a backpack. With disease rampant in the city, Ellen makes Maude strip completely to see if she has any signs of infection.

Our involvement grows when Maude reveals that she would like to leave the infant girl with Ellen as she intends to make her way to Canada with the help of the underground. The tension unmistakably builds between them, partly due to Ellen’s rebuff of Maude’s sudden sexual advances. Even more so from the way that each is responding to the gruesome reality on the outside where men are being rounded up and castrated and women are being enumerated.

Ellen’s biggest problem is how to stay alive and survive each day, just as Maud’s is getting drugs and escaping. Except for some help from underground sources, Ellen has been holed up in the apartment and existing on canned peaches since her husband failed to return home after going out to search for food almost two months ago. In Rapp’s Orwellian world of the future, the bad guys are called “Egg Heads,” apparently an army with white egg-shaped helmets under the command and control of an international consortium of corporatists that has manipulated the Eastern and the Western cultures into a war of annihilation.

Ellen’s plight is intensified when a severely tortured, injured, barely alive Hakim (Alok Tewari) Christian Arab wearing a turban gains access with a key. He is the bearer of tragic news as well as a poignantly personal letter that changes everything for Ellen. It isn’t a plot spoiler to reveal that Ellen gives Maude the boot when she tries to steal the key to the cupboard where the drugs are stashed.

There are hints of the surreal direction that Rapp is taking us in flashes of unearthly resurrections and ghostly departures. These eerie happenings are no less than a preparation for the play’s detour into science fiction. Two months later Ellen is not only still in the company of a decomposing body and the infant girl entrusted to her to two more visitors. In the kitchen, the infant being tested for her reproductive ability by a methodical but callous Arab doctor Joseph (Matt Pilieci). This, while Claire (Joanne Tucker), his frozen-faced associate dressed in intergalactic (my interpretation) white haute couture explains to Ellen why they are taking the baby away and leaving in exchange Darius (Vladimir Versailles) a polite, fourteen year-old African-American boy.

I’m a little unsure of what we are supposed to conclude about the relationship that is carefully initiated by Ellen with the unsophisticated Darius who has no knowledge of the war and has been raised on a human breeding farm for “genetically acceptable children.” That there is an apparent lack of fertile females being cultivated on the farm explains the doctor’s visit. What is easier to explain is Rapp’s contention that a master plan for a dystopian society is entirely and scarily conceivable.

Rapp’s direction certainly confirms him as a reliable interpreter of his own and very specific dramatic conceits, and the fine cast evidently concurs. Furstenberg, an Israel-based actor, is terrific as the resourceful, self-empowering Ellen. Slavick gives a gutsy, feral performance as the untrustworthy drug-addicted Maude. Mendes as the menacing intruder and Tewari, as the tortured Hakim may be unsightly to look upon, but they vividly project the horror and suffering of those on outside. There is a chilling non-emotional involvement from Pilieci and Hunter as the robotic doctor and his icy assistant. Versailles gives a sensitive performance as the innocent lad used for barter.

The title refers to the short time frame when it is presumed to be safe for people still alive to venture outside to seek food and water. Rapp has ventured so often out of the box with more than twenty plays )see links below), this futuristic nightmare shouldn’t be a total surprise. Nor should the long flight of steps that lead us to the accommodatingly (especially to Rapp’s plays) grungy interior of the Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre be a deterrent to any looking for a play that gives further proof that Rapp is one of America’s most consistently provocative, non-mainstream playwrights.

Links to Adam Rapp plays reviewed at Curtainup
Nocturne NY Theatre Workshop, 2001
Faster Rattlestick 2002
TrueblinkaMaverick Theater 2002
Stone Cold Dead Serious Edge Theater Company 2003
Finer Noble Gases Rattlestick 2004
Blackbird Blue Heron Arts Center 2004
Red Light Winter 2006 Steppenwolf Production at Barrow Street 2006
American Sligo Rattlestick 2007
Bingo With Indians Flea Theater 2007
Essential Self-Defense Playwrights Horizon 2007
Spin/ part of a one-act collection Cherry Lane 2008
Kindness Playwrights Horizon 2008
The Metal Children Vineyard 2010
The Hallway Trilogy/ Adam Rapp Rattlestick 2011
HotelMotel Gershwin Hotel 2011)

Through the Yellow Hour
Written and directed by Adam Rapp
Cast: Hani Furstenberg (Ellen), Brian Mendes (Dead Man), Danielle Slavick (Maude), Alok Tewari (Hakim), Joanne Tucker (Claire), Matt Pilieci (Doctor Joseph), Vladimir Versailles (Darius)
Scenery: Andromache Chalfant
Costumes: Jessica Pabst
Lighting:Keith Parham
Sound: Christian Frederickson
Properties: Andrew Diaz
Running Time: 1 hour and 50 minutes, no intermission
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place (between West 11th and Perry St)
From 9/13/12; opening 9/27/12; closing 10/28/12
Reviewed by Simon Saltzman 9/22/12
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