nytheatre.com review by Kimberly Wadsworth
May 24, 2006
"Tell me something I don't know."
This is the game the characters play in Julia Jordan's suspense thriller Dark Yellow, now playing in Chelsea's Studio Dante. A bartender in a small town invites a stranger passing through back to her place after her shift, where they drink margaritas and begin a slow seduction. "Tell me something I don't know," they tease each other, playing a drinking game in which they take turns surprising each other with unusual trivia. The bartender insists they stick to trivia rather than talking about themselves; she doesn't even want to know the stranger's name. But it's the things they don't know about each other that ultimately put the both of them in danger.
Their conversation, during which they both ultimately tell each other much, makes up the bulk of the play. Tina Benko is stunning as the bartender, giving her character a sly flirtatiousness that only gradually reveals the need and desperation beneath—which then further gives way to fear as she comes to realize just who she's invited into her home and her bed. Elias Koteas's stranger is similarly desperate; it's a bit clearer that something is wrong about him, and his flirting carries a bit of danger. We do know a bit more about him—the very first scene takes place earlier that evening in a cornfield, and suggests that the man may be responsible for a murder. The big surprise in his case comes when he finally reveals just why he has followed the bartender home.
Director Nick Sandow makes effective use of Studio Dante's tiny room in this first scene. The stage and the room are plunged into total darkness, and we are only able to hear the action as Koteas's character has a desperate conversation with a child in a cornfield (Max Kaplan, in a cameo role). Rather than just using the stage, Sandow stages the scene out in the house, with Koteas pacing up and down the aisle as he calls desperately to Kaplan.
Jordan's script, the bulk of which covers the scene between the couple, is wonderfully effective. There are things the audience knows, but there are things we don't; it's just by talking that the truth of it all comes out, just as it does for the two leads. The play starts as a seduction, and we are similarly lured in as a seemingly innocuous story turns into a dark thriller.
Except at the very end. There's an epilogue right after the main action reaches its climax that's very different in tone; so much so that it almost feels like a scene from another play entirely. The realistic set gives way to a projection on a screen, Benko's character is very different, the sound is different...There's justification for the change in the plot, but I still wished that information had been conveyed in a way that matched the rest of the play.