Resolutions is exactly the kind of play you expect from Edge, a theater company that prides itself on edgy work. The way artistic director Rick Yaconis sees it, that can include classic works as well as surreal ’60s, ultra-co ntemporary and absurdist plays, or anything else that challenges and feels alive. Yaconis also makes a point of showcasing local playwrights; for the final production of 2017, he commissioned a new work by Josh Hartwell, well-known around Denver for his acting and directing skills as well as his writing abilities. Yaconis asked for something seasonal but not clichéd or sentimental, and he also wanted the piece to feature New Year’s resolutions. Hartwell obliged — but not in a way that anyone who knows his subtly intelligent performances or the sensitive, layered productions he directs would have anticipated. Turns out this civilized, literate artist has the soul of a splattershock jock.
The action is set in Vail, where a group of friends have congregated to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Each is involved with the theater and intriguingly eccentric. Dellen, sympathetically played by Emily Paton Davies, is an ex-dancer, and the well-appointed home in which they’ve gathered, with its antler chandelier and pseudo-rustic decor, comes courtesy of her rich ex-husband; she’s still not exactly sure what she wants to do with the place.
On this evening, she’s waiting for her young ski-instructor lover, Trevor (an innocent-seeming Drew Hirschboeck). There’s affectionate joking between Dellen and her warm-spirited, longtime friend Greg (Scott McClean), who is grieving the end of his relationship with his husband. Enter Mindy and Peter, owners of a pot shop, played by Karen Slack and Andrew Uhlenhopp. It’s hard to say which of these two actors is funnier or more intense. Peter is stoned, and he delivers to his stunned and silent friends a monologue as long and incomprehensible as Lucky’s in Waiting for Godot — though you’re wasting your time if you search it for deep meaning. Pretty soon, Slack’s Mindy has her own moment of raucous and inspired lunacy.
In a cleverly inventive sequence, the group ceremoniously re-gifts unwanted presents, each providing a hilarious acceptance speech describing what he or she intends to do with that macrame plant hanger, china figure or tambourine.
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Music is provided by an obliging Siri-like voice activated by Dellen. You know how you think about smart-home automation — the technology that can turn on and off lights and appliances, alert and track you and apparently listen in to conversations — as both a boon and a menace? Hold that thought.
When an intruder erupts onto the scene, the civilized comedy we’ve been cheerfully watching transforms into a cross between the satiric horror of a movie like Scream or Student Bodies and a seriously murderous Stephen King story. Blood spurts. Terror and torture reign. The humorous, sophisticated people we’ve been watching turn into petrified statues. And why all this punishment? Because these same people have deceived each other — generally in the smallish ways we deceive others to keep our lives running smoothly — and those deceptions are embedded in their dishonest and/or abandoned resolutions. Each meets the attacker with his or her own brand of avoidance, appeasement, attempted humor or rage. The tone of the play begins to balance, sometimes a touch uneasily, between laughter and repulsion.
With this world premiere, Hartwell and the Edge have delivered a swift, funny, clever, 85-minute holiday treat, skillfully acted and well-paced and directed by Missy Moore. I have only one cavil: While Jonathan Brown does fine as the attacker, the violence might have been more convincing if the actor had seemed faster and stronger. I spent a large part of the evening sussing out moments when I felt the others could have stopped his rampage — for example, when he attempted a mutilation for which he lacked the surgical skill and that required his full concentration. “Come on, guys,” I kept thinking. “His back is turned.” But then I reminded myself that in real life, it’s usually a veteran or off-duty cop who springs into action — not folks who forgot to include martial arts among their New Year’s resolutions.
Resolutions, presented by Edge Theatre Company through December 31, 1560 Teller Street, Lakewood, 303-232-0363, theedgetheater.com.