One of the best new plays of the fall season, David Auburn’s Lost Lake is a relatively simple yet compelling drama about two flawed souls trapped in worlds they can’t break out of. Veronica (Tracie Thoms) is a single mother looking to rent a cabin upstate for a week for her, her children, and one of their friends. Veronica goes up early to check out the cabin, which turns out to be as shoddy and ramshackle as its owner, Hogan (John Hawkes), a gaunt, grizzled, but well-meaning man who can’t seem to do anything right in his life. Both are repairers of a sort; Veronica is a nurse practitioner with aspirations to perhaps become a doctor, while Hogan purports to be a handyman who can fix just about anything, including the rotting swimming dock out on the lake behind the cabin. But neither can patch the gaping holes in their lives. As her supposed vacation progresses, Veronica gets caught up in Hogan’s family drama, as he lurks around the property, telling her about his problems with his ex-wife, his daughter, his brother, and, mostly, his despised sister-in-law, no matter how much Veronica just wants him to leave. But various events, both major and minor, keep bringing these two very different people together during a complicated period in which each is forced to take a long, hard look at the choices they’ve made while dealing with the hands they’ve been given.
Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner Auburn reteams with his Proof director, Daniel Sullivan, for this moving slice-of-life tale, which is highlighted by two superb performances. Thoms (Cold Case, Stick Fly) is careful and deliberate as Veronica, a troubled woman who does not like to let her wounds show. The Oscar-nominated Hawkes (Winter’s Bone, The Sessions) is riveting as Hogan, all herky-jerky and unpredictable as a man seemingly uncomfortable in his own skin. The back-and-forth banter between them is enhanced by the piercing yet vulnerable looks in their eyes, neither character happy with their lot in life but not sure how to turn things around. The script cleverly touches on such issues as race, the economic crisis, class, elitism, and gender roles while efficiently dismissing the one place you really don’t want it to go. J. Michael Griggs’s set is appropriately broken-down and dilapidated, echoing the protagonists’ inner demons. The ninety-minute Manhattan Theatre Club production follows the play’s debut earlier this year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with Jake Weber and Opal Alladin as part of the Sullivan Project, a residency led by artistic director Daniel Sullivan, who has also helmed such shows as Rabbit Hole, Orphans, The Heidi Chronicles, and many Shakespeare in the Park presentations. Lost in the Lake is a fine fit for the intimate Stage I at City Center, where it is scheduled to run through December 21.