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A `Red Light' Rapp on love, sex, friendship

Adam Rapp's ``Red Light Winter" is about the night two guys share an Amsterdam ``window prostitute" and the lasting effects that encounter has on their lives. The play, a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize, was first performed by Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater, then in New York. It begins previews at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater on Thursday. Rapp recently spoke about the play by cellphone from a train.

What's the history of this play?
I wrote it in 2003. I was on the West Coast, auditioning people for my first film. For some reason I started reminiscing about the time I spent with a best friend in Amsterdam back in 1997. My friend was very depressed and was having a hard time connecting to the world. He'd lost a girlfriend. In Amsterdam I thought it would be good for him to get back on the horse. So I went window-shopping in the red light district for a woman for him. I met a woman, we slept together, and I gave her more money so I could send my friend to her, too. She was a Greek premed student, purportedly, very beautiful and sweet. He had an amazing time and developed an irrational obsession with her. In LA, I went back to my hotel room and started writing a play about two friends who both sleep with the same prostitute. The play is very much fiction. People want to believe it's directly autobiographical, but I just borrowed the triangle.

Davis -- the guy who hires the prostitute -- is a powerful, charismatic figure. Christina is attracted to him, and the friend, Matt, seems under his thrall. Davis seems similar to the unfeeling, egotistical men in Neil LaBute's "In the Company of Men." Is Davis the embodiment of a certain kind of Gen X-er?
I think that's probably accurate. My only relationship to Davis is that I played basketball in a competitive college environment with alpha males. They seemed to rise to the top. Davis is a triple threat: He's intellectually capable, athletically capable, and sexually capable. Casting him is tricky. You have to find someone who can not only charm the two people in the play but the entire audience as well. The audience has to fall in love with him to understand why Christina would.

In the script, I didn't like him at all.
I don't either.

The play contains nudity and very sexually explicit stage directions. How did the Chicago and New York productions interpret them? Is there real sex going on onstage?
No, but it really looks like it. I directed those productions, so I'm in control of the sexual content. There was a wash of red light at those moments, and it was dimly lit. They were certainly naked with each other. We had to do all sorts of masking and tricks. It's all about developing trust with the actors and with each other. But all the emotional things going on have to be convincing for it to work.

The play is actually less about sex than it is about unrequited love, loneliness, and the gulf between those who feel successful and those who do not.
I never thought of this play as a pornographic play. It's about heartbreak, irrational love, unrequited love. When I was in LA, I saw a production of ``The Seagull." I was so moved by that. The friend I was with said, `How come you don't write about love?' I thought this would be a good rabbit hole to disappear into and challenge myself. The most important thing is dealing with this irrational connection we put on people when we have a small moment with them. And how that can change our lives.

"Red Light Winter" runs Thursday through Aug. 12. $12-$27. 508-349-9428, www.what.org.

Notes
Company One, which just won a "Boston's Best" award from the Improper Bostonian for best fringe theater company, opens the first show of its season, Stephen Adly Guirgis's "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot," at the Boston Center for the Arts tonight. The rest of the plays in its season include: ``After Ashley," by Gina Gionfriddo , Oct. 27-Nov. 18; "Six Rounds/Six Lessons," by local playwright John ADEkoje , March 9-31; and another show to be announced. . . . Boston Theatre Works presents ``BTW Unbound," a collection of new plays, this weekend at the Boston Center for the Arts' Plaza Black Box Theatre. . . . David Hare's "Via Dolorosa," starring Jonathan Epstein, is at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in September and October, but will move to Brandeis University for five performances. . . . Gloucester Stage Company presents Arthur Miller's "The Price" Thursday through Aug. 6. . . . Amy Brenneman (from TV's "Judging Amy") will play Eileen in "A Nervous Smile" by John Belluso at the Williamstown Theatre Festival July 26-Aug. 6.

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