Perky Connecticut housewife Rachel looks forward to the Yuletide. But husband Tom has a confession about this year's present: He's hired a hit man to rub her out. Merry fricking Christmas.
So runs the plotline of Craig Lucas's 1983 comedy-drama "Reckless," to be presented by the Shandaken Theatrical Society (STS), December 7 through 16. Hardly standard holiday fare.
Defying expectations is the mission of Michael Koegel, STS's new artistic director. In his first season at the helm of the 35-year-old troupe, the veteran actor-director has a simple vision: "What I am trying to do in general is bring more contemporary American playwrights to [this] theater."
Koegel originally arrived in New York City for theater but found work producing and writing for PBS, Fox Family Channel, FX and Nickelodeon. When he relocated to the Mid-Hudson Valley almost three years ago, Koegel opened a coffee shop in Phoenicia across from the STS Playhouse. A longtime dream of running his own theater was reignited, and he joined the company.
To understand how much "Reckless" departs from typical STS fare requires a history lesson. Shandaken Theatrical Society is best known for offering genial fare, performed by local amateurs and professional transplants. Past productions have included musical classics like "The Pajama Game," "Gypsy" and plays like "Wait Until Dark" and "The Subject Was Roses." Generally, shows displayed more enthusiasm than expertise. But STS was community theater at its most guileless.
In 2005, STS experienced growing pains. Playfair, an annual showcase for new talent, drew a handful of audience complaints for staging works that included what your grandmother might term "blue language". A culture war flared among board members. In the end, two people departed and a new interim president, Dotty Casey-Gaede, then 73, was installed. She told this reporter at the time, "We want to put on good family entertainment. We don't need a whole lot of sex and bad language, either in the show or on the stage."
Michael Koegel is determined to bring STS into the 21st century by staging the works of playwrights who are challenging, transgressive and yes, may employ four-letter words, including Pulitzer Prize winners Paula Vogel and David Lindsay-Abaire.
Initially, there may be a learning curve among local theatergoers, Koegel acknowledged. "It's not that the audience is less sophisticated; they just have less experience because they haven't seen this type of theater."
In "Reckless," Rachel flees her home during a Christmas Eve blizzard and embarks on a picaresque journey that lasts a dozen years. The mishaps and misadventures accrue—betrayals, poisonings, assassinations, and TV game show fame—leaving Rachel stripped of illusions and transcendent of her past. Cast members include Alise Marie, Phil Mansfield, Kathy Richter, Faye Storms, George Tsontakis, Jay Braman, Tom Hagakore, Sarah Hagakore, and Cameron Williams.
"Reckless" may seem the theatrical equivalent of a lump of coal in your fireplace stocking on Christmas morning. But Koegel stresses the upbeat message tucked among the cruel absurdities of Lucas's play. "Rachel comes out of this a much stronger, capable and wiser human being. And that is what we can all hope for ourselves at the end of our journeys."
"Reckless" will be staged December 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16 at the STS Playhouse in Phoenicia. Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm.
Tickets are $15/$12 seniors (845) 688-2279