Review: The Hallway Trilogy

Adam Rapp focuses on an LES hallway for a century of drama.

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  • Photograph: Sandra Coudert

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Photograph: Sandra Coudert

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Time Out Ratings

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

As you walk along the passage that is Adam Rapp's nearly five-hour triptych devoted to an architectural commonplace, you notice a disturbing design: Progressively, the paint peels and flakes; the plaster cracks, revealing listing joists and termite-nibbled shims; trash gradually piles up, raising a fetid stench and getting underfoot; finally, your journey stops at a lightless dead end. In other words, Rapp's trilogy begins strong but eventually breaks down and leads nowhere. Conceivably, Rapp would approve of the metaphor; the Hallway Trilogy—which stays in place while a century passes—might just be about our voyage to death.

Starting in 1953 in the corridor of a cheap tenement on the Lower East Side, the first play, Rose, is named after a delusional starlet (the limpid Katherine Waterston) who believes that recently deceased playwright Eugene O'Neill faked his death and lives in Apartment 10. Rose interacts with a variety of period-specific lodgers, including a lovelorn Communist agitator (Louis Cancelmi), a floozy from the scandal sheets (Julianne Nicholson) and an English-mangling horn player from Russia (William Apps). The next tale, Paraffin, takes place a half century later, during the 2003 blackout, and the final installment, Nursing, is a dystopian sci-fi shocker, circa 2053, in which a nihilistic ex-soldier (Logan Marshall-Green) volunteers to have himself infected with and cured of a range of horrific diseases (the hallway has been turned into a living museum). Familiar Rappian tropes include physical decay, violence, cults, madness and futile acts of kindness. Anyone worried that the writer is getting soft, rest assured: By the end of this epic, every bodily fluid has put in an appearance.

Rapp and his 14-strong company of actors, two extra directors and an ace design crew are the village needed to create this novelistic panoply of lost souls during and after the so-called American century. The first two plays are packed with solid writing and suspenseful plotting; the last is a postapocalyptic sketch with gross-out effects. Despite the shaggy-dog aspects of the enterprise, Rapp remains a true man of the theater and a potent writer. So if you hear a loud clatter out on the landing, I suggest you step out and take a look.

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Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (see Off Broadway). By Adam Rapp. Dirs. Rapp, Daniel Aukin and Trip Cullman. With ensemble casts. 1hr 40mins. No intermission (approximate time for each of the three plays).

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