Lost Lake

1/5
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Lost Lake
2/5
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Lost Lake
3/5
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Lost Lake
4/5
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Lost Lake
5/5
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Lost Lake

Lost Lake. Manhattan Theatre Club (see Off Broadway). By David Auburn. Directed by Daniel Sullivan. With John Hawkes and Tracie Thoms. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.

Lost Lake: In brief

David Auburn reunites with Proof director Daniel Sullivan for a new drama, in which Tracie Thoms plays a harried mother who rents a less-than-ideal lakeside property from a strange man (John Hawkes).

Lost Lake: Theater review by David Cote

The lakeside cabin that Veronica (Tracie Thoms) plans to rent from Hogan (John Hawkes) as a summer getaway for herself and her two kids is badly in need of repair. A diving dock could use new boards, the deck is crying out for a coat of paint, the phone is dead, and there’s a shutter hanging by a thread from the window. Hogan says he’ll fix everything before Veronica arrives—a promise you suspect the shabby stranger won’t keep. By contrast, David Auburn’s Lost Lake is a competently tooled and polished example of play craft. It’s just not my idea of a vacation.

Auburn’s follow-up to the underwhelming period piece The Columnist and his first major contemporary-set play since Proof (14 years ago), Lost Lake is your basic two-actor, one-set, 90-minute character study. Auburn packs his characters with backstory (Hogan is divorced, shady and unstable; Veronica lost a husband and faces career meltdown), sets them on each other’s nerves and then coaxes them into shared confidences and wary, poignant friendship.

The highly likeable Thoms and Hawkes are excellent conduits for Auburn’s skilled, lean dialogue, timed-release secrets and symmetrical power shifts. Hawkes has the flashier role and creates a vivid portrait of a spindly, wheedling, ingratiating wreck of a man; he and his decrepit property are one. Daniel Sullivan sets a crisp, lucid tone, capturing the cabin’s aura of isolation and weather-beaten, scruffy charm (the set is by J. Michael Griggs), allowing us to focus on the inhabitants’ minute emotional adjustments.

What’s missing is that extra factor to make us feel more deeply—some poetic flight or social vision that makes Hogan and Veronica’s pain and joy register louder than the clicking machinery of the writer’s squarish dramaturgy. Most of it works on a basic plot and motivational level (Auburn is too smart to strain credulity), but the climactic showdown, with Hogan broken and Veronica on the path to healing, ought to land harder. It’s like renting an apartment only to discover it’s really the set for a middling Off Broadway play about empathy and second chances: all prop appliances and fake walls. Now that’s a show I’d like to see.—Theater review by David Cote

THE BOTTOM LINE Auburn is a pro but still searching for a subject.

Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote

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