Leila Toba & Michael Mayes. Photo: The Bard’s Town

Red Light Winter

By Adam Rapp
Directed by Jordan Price

Review by Jason Cooper

Entire contents copyright are © 2019 by Jason Cooper. All rights reserved.

Why are we continually drawn to the things that hurt us? That’s is one of the essential questions at the ice-cold heart of The Bard’s Town’s production of Adam Rapp’s Red Light Winter. When referring to the play he is writing, Matt (Neil Brewer) states, “It’s three people in a room.” The same is true for Red Light Winter, but do not let that simple description fool you, there is nothing simple about these characters.

We first meet Matt and Davis in a seedy hotel room in Amsterdam. Right away it is established that Davis (Michael Mayes) is the Alpha dog and the sensitive Matt is a tortured artist. Into this mix comes Christina (Leila Toba), a French prostitute, procured by Davis as a gift for Matt, who is not quite what she seems. What unfolds is a night of self-destruction, sex, and lies. We then jump across the pond to New York City, to a winter’s night one year later, where the cycle repeats itself.

Red Light Winter is not a play that is comfortable to watch. However, thanks mainly to the unflinching direction of Jordan Price and the searing performances of the three actors it is impossible to look away.

Brewer, Toba, and Mayes pull off the most difficult task there is for an actor with aplomb – they make you care about less than likable characters. Brewer’s Neil is the soul of the play, and a lesser actor might have made him seem pathetic and whiney, but Brewer crafts a sympathetic, multi-faceted character. Brewer’s vulnerability in the role is both sweetly endearing and utterly heartbreaking. Michael Mayes injects so much genuine charm into Davis that one could actually understand why Matt would remain friends with a person who is essentially a sociopathic narcissist. Mayes never plays the character as a villain; he masks the character with such charisma and sex appeal that it takes a really long time to see the viper beneath. As the enigmatic Christina, Leila Toba delivers a compelling and courageous performance. Toba manages to evoke both anger and compassion from the audience; she breaks your heart while simultaneously, your heart breaks for her.

Jordan Price’s direction is raw and exposed, but never exploitative, which is a very tricky tightrope to walk. Price trusts his actors and his audience with being able to handle he material, therefore he never panders and he never pulls back. All three actors should be applauded for their bravery. They bare themselves both physically and emotionally, and they are unafraid to go places many actors or unwilling to go.

The Louisville Theatre community is lucky to have The Bard’s Town. They are one of the few theatre companies taking on daring new plays like Red Light Winter. In a town full of big, crowd-pleasing musicals, intimate plays such as this are a much-needed alternative, and help provide us with a culturally well-rounded arts community.

Red Light Winter

February 28 – March 10, 2019

The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205


Jason Cooper has worked in professional, regional, and community theatre for over twenty years. After receiving his BFA in theatre performance he spent three seasons with the award-winning Playhouse on the Square in Memphis, TN. After working in theatres all over the country for a time, Jason settled in Chicago and worked with The Chicago Dramatists, Apple Tree Theatre, and Red Moon Theatre before returning home to Louisville to become a high school English teacher. Locally, Jason has worked extensively as an actor and director primarily for Pandora Productions, CenterStage, The Bard’s Town, Derby Dinner Playhouse, and Stage One.


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