Prolific, bewildering and uneven yet ever-questing, playwright Adam Rapp is as brave as he is foolish. That’s how he can fearlessly begin a play of broad imaginative scope, but be silly enough to think that he can finish it. So we have Through the Yellow Hour, a jagged survival thriller in which Islamofascists have invaded New York and are castrating men. Nurse Ellen (Hani Furstenberg) has been holed up in her partially bombed Lower East Side apartment for 52 days, hoping for her husband’s return. One day, she takes in a female infant from junkie mother Maude (Danielle Slavick), who Ellen hopes to trade for…well, it’s unclear what bargain our pistol-packing hero intends to strike. Yellow Hour is full of narrative feints and cryptic clues; it’s extravagantly grim and lurid, with heaps of violence, nudity and drug abuse. Gunfire crackles in the distance. Scenes spool out in crepuscular murk. For its first 75 minutes, this pulpy shocker has you by the short hairs. After that, though, it loses its grip.
As befits a piece that’s more graphic novel than well-made play, Yellow Hour looks and sounds sensational. Andromache Chalfant’s meticulously violated set, Keith Parham’s grimy, pestilential lighting and Christian Frederickson’s gunshot-riddled sound design all weave a fantastically tense and vivid aura of war. And the actors—apparently instructed to perform as if they might be shot in the face at any moment—do heroic, focused work.
Had Rapp built his world and left it bluntly unresolved at the end, I’d almost forgive the gamer-fanboy sloppiness. But a slow, portentous final scene suggests closure and a wan ray of hope. When the author uses the final 20 minutes of his play to provide (unnecessary) exposition, he may have hit a storytelling wall. And yet, despite a disappointing fade-out, Through the Yellow Hour is a gutsy addition to Rapp’s varied oeuvre, a bona fide genre drama that sees him trying to push beyond his own excesses.—David Cote
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